The attacks appear to be part of a campaign to force Buddhists to leave Thailand’s Muslim-majority south, police said.
It is also believed that the killings are a response to a peace drive by Surayud Chulanont, the prime minister. Surayud was appointed prime minister by the army after a coup in September that removed Thaksin Shinawatra in September. Thaksin had taken a tough stance towards the separatists.
Surayud has sought to negotiate with the separatists and made three visits to the region last month, but violence has escalated three-fold during the period, with Surayud’s visits being quickly followed by bombings and shootings.
More than 1,800 people have been killed since January 2004, most of them civilians. The separatists have never made their aims publicly known, nor have they claimed responsibility for the attacks.