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Saturday, December 02, 2006

4 Buddhists shot dead in Thailand's restive south

BANGKOK, Thailand: Four Buddhists were shot dead Saturday in Buddhist-majority Thailand's restive, Muslim-dominated south, as the government warned it may have to change its strategy to counter the rising violence.

A gunman posing as a customer whipped out a gun and shot a 59-year-old food vendor in Pattani province in front of dozens of horrified bystanders, police Lt. Wichathon Timkrom said.

In nearby Yala province, gunmen killed a 34-year-old truck driver as he rode his motorcycle with his wife, Police Lt. Prasom Laungphu said. His wife was not hurt.

Two other Buddhists were shot dead Saturday in Narathiwat province, police said. Gunmen fired into a grocery store in Rueso district, killing its owner Wanna Ongananurak, 35, and a second woman who was as yet unidentified, police said.

Thailand's military-installed government has pledged to make peace in the south a priority, and to reverse the hardline policies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawtra, who was deposed by a coup Sept. 19.

But with daily killings continuing unabated, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said on Saturday the government may have to change course if the situation does not improve.

"My government is insisting on a peaceful solution to resolve the problem, but if the situation is not improved in (the) next three months, the government may have to adjust the strategy," Surayud said, without elaborating.

More than 1,800 people have died from violence in predominantly Buddhist Thailand's three southernmost, Muslim-majority provinces — Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat — since an Islamic insurgency flared in January 2004

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