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Thai Separatists Burn School, Kill Four

Suspected separatists burned down a government school in southern Thailand and then ambushed and killed four officials who came to investigate the arson Tuesday, police said.

Insurgents burned down the school in Maikaen district of Pattani province late Monday, the same day that more than 100 public schools reopened their doors after being closed all last week in response to the brutal slaying of four teachers in neighbouring Narathiwat province.

Ambushes claimed four lives Tuesday morning when officials and soldiers went to Maikaen to inspect the burned school site.

One bomb, hidden near a bridge leading to the school, killed Maikaen district head Chaiyaphat Raksayot and two other officials when their car detonated the explosive devise.

Another bomb, placed near the school, killed one soldier and injured two others.

"The perpetrators no doubt wanted to kill Chaiyaphat because he was trying to get tough with them in his district," said Pattani Governor Thanoo Uthairat.

Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces comprise the deep south, the majority Muslim region that borders Malaysia, and has long claimed closer cultural ties with its southern neighbour than with the predominantly Buddhist Thai state.

More than 2,100 people have fallen victim to violence in the region since January 2004, when a decades-old separatist struggle turned to more brutal tactics such as beheadings and terrorising innocent civilians in an apparent effort to drive the Thai-Buddhist minority out of the area.

Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, who has won international praise for his conciliatory approach to the conflict, admitted Monday that the policy had failed to improve the situation, which has in fact "deteriorated" in recent months.

The deep south was an independent Islamic sultanate known as Pattani for hundreds of years before being conquered by Bangkok in 17 86. The border provinces came under direct rule of the Thai bureaucracy in 1902.

A separatist struggle took off in the 1950s, fuelled by government efforts to suppress the local culture and religion in the region.


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