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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2005, 07:15 GMT 08:15 UK
Six dead in south Thailand raids
Thai soldiers stand guard in front of check point where five Thai soldiers were killed in Cho-i-rong district, in Narathiwat province south of Thailand, 06 October 2005.
Security is heavy in Thailand's southern provinces
At least six people have died in a wave of co-ordinated attacks in southern Thailand, which officials blamed on suspected Muslim militants.

The attackers took dozens of weapons from the homes of village chiefs and defence volunteers in the provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani.

Among the dead were two village chiefs and two militants, officials said.

Nearly 1,000 people have been killed in the south since 2004, in violence blamed on a separatist insurgency.

The government blames Muslim separatists - seeking independence from the majority-Buddhist north - for the violence.

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

However, local people have been angered by the security forces' often brutal suppression of the unrest.

The latest attacks took place on Wednesday evening, when many locals were attending prayers at mosques, local officials said.

A number of village defence volunteers were reportedly injured and their guns taken.

The Thai government has been training and arming civilians in the south to defend their communities.

But the volunteers have become a target of the alleged militants, who appear to be warning locals against co-operating with Thai authorities.

Police have launched a manhunt for those involved in the latest raids.

A reward of 20,000 Baht ($490) has been offered by local officials for the return of any of the stolen weapons, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The raids came a day after the first anniversary of the death of 85 Muslim protesters, mainly from suffocation, while in army custody, following violence at a rally in the south.


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