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97 killed in south Thailand gunbattles
Updated: 2004-04-28 13:37

At least 97 people have been killed in co-ordinated attacks on security posts in Thailand in the deadliest fighting this year in the country's predominantly Muslim south.

Thai soldiers patrol in front of a giant Buddha statue in Narathiwat province, southern Thailand. Clashes between security forces and youths who launched attacks on police and army checkpoints in Thailand's Muslim south have left up to 97 people dead. [AFP]
Black-clad bandits attacked 15 police stations in three southern provinces -- Yala, Pattani and Songkhla -- killing three policemen and one army officer.

More than 150 people have died since unrest began in early January in Thailand's restive Muslim-dominated southern provinces, but Wednesday's violence is the worst single incident to date.

"In Yala alone the insurgents attacked six targets and at least 45 of them were killed. We lost two police officers and seven were injured," Yala governor Boonyasit Suwanarat it told a news conference.

The largely Muslim province of Yala is 1,300 kilometers (780 miles) south of the capital, Bangkok.

Thai soldiers training at a military camp in Pattani province. [AP]
Local television showed pictures of police and troops taking up positions in rural areas, as well as scenes of wounded border troops being unloaded from trucks onto stretchers.

At least one dead soldier was shown lying in the wreckage of a destroyed building. It is not known yet whether the attackers are Muslim separatists.

Bangkok has so far blamed the trouble on local gangsters exploiting disaffected local Malay-speaking Muslim youths who feel few emotional ties to the predominantly Buddhist country.

Last week 50 government buildings were torched in a single night and fears are growing that Thai citizens may soon become increasingly drawn into the violence.

The government is also facing criticism for its handling of the violence amid fears that outside terrorist forces could be stirring the trouble.

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