Troops killed in southern Thailand

Deaths reported during raid on military camp in Narathiwat by fighters who also stole arms and ammunition.

    A security force of more than 60,000 is stationed in southern Thailand [AFP]

    Four Thai soldiers have been killed by suspected fighters in a raid on a military camp in the country's south, according to the army.

    In a daring attack, about 50 fighters attacked a unit in Narathiwat province on Wednesday evening, speaking a gun battle, Colonel Banphot Poonpien, an army spokesman, told AFP news agency.

    "Four soldiers died in the attack and seven were injured. Of these, four are in a critical condition," he said.

    The fighters took more than 50 rifles and about 5,000 bullets during the raid, setting off bombs and burning two houses and a tent within the base before retreating, according to a statement from the southern Thai army headquarters.

    The troops killed were said to be aged between 22 and 33.

    Suspected separatist fighters have waged a violent campaign in the Muslim-majority region of southern Thailand, that borders Malaysia.

    Since early 2004, more than 4,400 people have died in the violence.

    Emergency rule extended

    The Thai government extended on Tuesday emergency rule in the country's south for another three months, despite rights groups' concerns about the powers given to the military.

    Suthep Thaugsuban, the deputy prime minister who oversees national security, said the fighters staged the latest attack to terrify local residents.

    "They want to show their capability," he said, a day after he made a visit to the south.

    A security force of more than 60,000 is stationed in the region, battling rebels whose precise aims are unclear.

    Critics accuse the government of failing to address the grievances of Thailand's Malay Muslim minority, including alleged abuses by the military and a perceived lack of respect for their ethnic identity, language and religion.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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