Islamic Insurgency in Southern Thailand

PATTANI, Thailand – Muslim insurgents shot and killed five construction workers Thursday while they were entering a school in southern Thailand, police said.

The attackers hid inside a house by the road and jumped out as the van approached the Islamic school in Pattani province, which was closed for summer break, police Capt. Sompob Laungwong said.

Pattani is one of three provinces in southern Thailand, bordering Malaysia, that has been gripped by a Muslim insurgency since 2004. The area is the only Muslim-dominated section of the Buddhist country.

Public schools and teachers in the southernmost provinces, viewed as symbols of government authority, are regularly attacked. Some 80 Buddhist teachers are among the more than 3,000 people killed since violence flared in 2004.

The victims, all of them Buddhists, were on their way to the school for construction work before the new school term starts in May, Sompob said.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was visiting Malaysia on Thursday to discuss the violence and other issues with his Malaysian counterpart, government spokesman Wichianchote Sukchotrat said.

Samak plans to ask the Malaysian government to repatriate two key suspected insurgent leaders who are believed to be living in Malaysia, he said.

The violence in Thailand is a regular topic of discussion between leaders of the two countries, which exchange information about suspected insurgents and have periodically posted joint security along the border.

Muslims who live in the three provinces have long complained of discrimination by the Thai government. The southern Thais are of same ethnicity as Malaysian Malays, sharing the same religion, culture, food and language.

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