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01 April 2010

Six killed in Thailand's insurgency-plagued south

(Reuters) - Suspected Islamic insurgents shot dead six Buddhist villagers in Thailand's restive south Thursday, police said, the latest attack in the troubled region bordering Malaysia.

The villagers in Narathiwat province were believed to have been ambushed, said police Colonel Sanit Suwanno. Two bodies were found in a pick-up truck and four were discovered in a hilly forest nearby, he added.

Ten policemen and soldiers were also wounded when a roadside bomb exploded as they were traveling to the scene of the shootings, police said.

More than 3,900 people have been killed in six years of unrest as ethnic Malay Muslims fight for autonomy from Thailand's Buddhist majority in the region just a few hours by car from some of Thailand's best-known tourist beaches.

Local Muslims largely oppose the presence of tens of thousands of police, soldiers and state-armed Buddhist guards in rubber-rich region, which was part of a Malay Muslim sultanate until annexed by Thailand a century ago.

About 80 percent of Thailand's three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are Muslim.

The violence has ranged from drive-by shootings to bombings and beheadings. It often targets Buddhists and Muslims associated with the Thai state, such as police, soldiers, government officials and teachers.

(Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom. Writing by Jason Szep)

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