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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Thai marines killed by villagers
Tanyong Limo villagers block a district road - 21/9/05
Roads to the village were earlier blocked by local women
Two marines seized by villagers in Thailand's troubled south in response to a shooting incident have been knifed and beaten to death.

The men were seized after a drive-by attack on the village of Tanyong Limo, in which at least one person died.

Some villagers said the marines were involved in the attack and were members of a government-backed death squad.

But Thai authorities denied the claim, saying the men were seized as a result of mistaken identity.

Thailand's largely Muslim southern provinces have been hit by a wave of violence for more than a year and a half, leaving more than 900 people dead.

The government has blamed Muslim separatists, while local people have been angered by the security forces' often brutal suppression of the violence.

Correspondents say this incident is the latest sign of an increasing mistrust between southern villagers and the Thai authorities.

'Misunderstanding'

The two marines, named as Sub-Lieutenant Vinai Nakhabut and Petty Officer Khamthon Thongeiat, were taken from their car on Tuesday night after villagers accused them of firing shots in connection with an attack on a local teashop.

The pair were in civilian clothes and driving an unmarked car.

SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
At least one person is killed and three injured in a shooting incident on Tuesday evening
Two marines kidnapped by local mob soon afterwards
Hostages taken to local school
Villagers set up roadblocks on Wednesday, preventing troops from entering
Hostages killed, reportedly as villagers heard rumour of a possible attack

"It is a misunderstanding by the villagers. It was a coincidence that the two marines came when the shooting happened," Defence Minister Thammarak Isarangura told reporters.

After taking the two men hostage - reportedly when their car broke down - local youths left them bound and blindfolded in a nearby school.

The villagers then prevented security forces from entering the area, blocking the main road with a log.

Hundreds of women gathered at the scene, holding placards denouncing the government and security forces.

According to a BBC correspondent in Thailand, Jonathan Head, attempts to negotiate the men's release made little headway.

Villagers demanded a withdrawal of security personnel from the area, and called for journalists from nearby Malaysia to come and report on the incident, since they did not trust the Thai media.

But before the journalists could arrive, the two marines were bludgeoned and stabbed to death, after a rumour spread that the villagers were about to be attacked by troops.

Waehamae Baga, a government negotiator who visited the scene, told Thai media the two marines "were tied together by rope, and they were apparently hit on the head with hard objects before being stabbed."

The bodies of the two men have now been recovered by the Thai military.

Government response

Despite strong government denials, many people in southern Thailand are convinced that the police and military are operating death squads which are targeting Islamic leaders and human rights activists.

VIOLENCE-HIT 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 since 2004, targeting Buddhists
Security forces' response criticised by rights groups

The government must now decide how to respond to the killing of the marines, our correspondent says.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters in Bangkok that justice would be done.

"The authorities tried to negotiate with [the villagers] and were extremely patient, but these people came back with inhuman cruelty and torture," he said.

"What happened shows that these people want violence and not peace."

But before now, the harsh reaction of the security forces to the ongoing insurgency has done little to reduce the levels of violence, and the authorities will be under pressure to make sure they do not inflame the situation still further.




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