BANGKOK (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen shot dead two soldiers in an ambush in Thailand's south on Thursday, police said, and dozens of banners calling for independence have been found in the insurgency-plagued region.
The two soldiers were killed as they drove back from patrol in Rueso district of Narathiwat province, police said, adding that the assailants were suspected insurgents.
"The two soldiers were killed while driving back from a patrol and were ambushed by around five to seven suspected insurgents and shot," Police Lieutenant General Suchart Teerasawat, an inspector-general and deputy chief of a southern provinces operation center, told Reuters.
"Their bodies were set on fire."
The attack comes despite a 50 percent drop in attacks by Muslim Malay rebels across the restive region, according to police.
The killings followed the discovery early on Thursday of dozens of banners in the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, home to a Muslim majority in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, calling for independence.
The banners were found in more than 10 cities across the region, police said. One read: "The nature of Siamese colonial hunters is that they lack humanitarian concern and they always lie to the international community."
Resistance to Buddhist rule has existed for decades in the predominantly Muslim provinces, which were part of a Malay Muslim sultanate until annexed by Thailand in 1902.
More than 6,500 people - most of them civilians - have died in violence, including shootings and bomb attacks, since January 2004 when conflict resurfaced.
Successive governments have failed to quell the separatist trouble. Last November, Thailand's military government vowed to bring peace to the south within a year. Since then, talks aimed at ending the insurgency have stalled.
Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Jeremy Laurence