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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June, 2005, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Man beheaded in Thailand teashop
Thai paramilitary officers inspect charred cars following a bomb blast in the parking area of a bank in Rangae district of Thailand's disturbed southern Narathiwat province, 21 June 2005
There was a bomb blast in the same province on Wednesday
Suspected Muslim militants have beheaded a man in southern Thailand in front of customers in a teashop.

Police said the man, a travelling salesman, was shot twice and then decapitated in the shop in Narathiwat province, in the middle of the day.

It was the fifth beheading in just over two weeks, and is thought to be the first carried out so publicly.

The Thai south has been hit by violence since suspected Muslim separatists launched an insurgency 18 months ago.

The latest victim, Lek Pongpa, was a clothes vendor originally from northern Thailand, police said.

TROUBLED SOUTH
Home to most of Thailand's 4% Muslim minority
Muslim rebels fought the government up to the mid-80s
Suspected militants have upped attacks this year, targeting Buddhists
Security forces' response criticised by rights groups

His attacker carried off his severed head by motorbike before dumping it by the roadside in Joh Irong, about 2km (1.2 miles) .

Police Lieutenant Panongsak Wangsupa told the BBC Thai service that witnesses were unwilling to give any information.

Eight bodies have been beheaded since the upsurge in violence began.

Several have been found with notes claiming the attacks were carried out in revenge for repression by the Thai authorities.

People living in Thailand's Muslim majority south have long complained of discrimination by the central government, particularly in areas like education.

However, Defence Minister Thammarak Issarangkura Na Ayutthaya said the victims of the violence appeared to be random.

"There's no clear direction in the militants' attacks. They have even carried out indiscriminate attacks against Muslim villagers," he told reporters.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has in recent months pledged that his government would tone down its hardline stance on the issue.

But there continues to be almost daily murders in the area, and the death toll in the last 18 months has passed 700.

On Tuesday, a village official was shot dead in his home in Yala province, a defence volunteer was gunned down in Pattani province, and a small bomb exploded early on Wednesday in Narathiwat province, but no-one was injured.




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