January 19, 2011 / 3:49 PM / 9 years ago

Four troops killed in Thai rebel ambush

YALA, Thailand (Reuters) - Suspected Muslim separatists killed four soldiers and wounded five others on Wednesday in the bloodiest incident in several months in Thailand’s restive deep South, police said.

The attack took place shortly after nightfall when about 20 gunmen opened fire on a military base in Rangae, Narathiwat province, one of the deadliest areas in a mainly Muslim region plagued by seven years of unrest.

The violence, believed to be the work of ethnic Malay separatists rebelling against a century of rule by predominantly Buddhist Thailand, has claimed more than 4,300 lives since an insurgency resurfaced in January 2004.

The government says strict security measures, overseen by more than 40,000 troops, have led to a decrease in the rate of violence over the past year and it is considering lifting emergency measures gradually.

However, the latest attack, which came two days after a rare visit by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, suggests the shadowy militants are still strong in the provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and parts of Songkhla.

The rubber-rich region is just a few hours away from some of Thailand’s major tourist hotspots, although the attacks have so far been limited to the four provinces, which border Malaysia.

The violence is typically drive-by shootings, ambushes and roadside blasts, although car bombings and beheadings have taken place in recent years.

Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Noah Barkin

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