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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 06:12 GMT
Thai villagers shot dead in raid
A Thai soldier on patrol in Narathiwat province
Muslims have long complained of discrimination
At least nine villagers have been shot dead and nine others wounded in a raid by suspected Islamic militants in Thailand's troubled south.

Hand grenades and guns were allegedly used in the attack on several homes in Narathiwat province, witnesses said .

Officials claimed the victims were targeted because they had co-operated with the government in its crackdown on the ongoing Islamic insurgency.

About 1,000 people have died in the Muslim-majority south since early 2004.

The ambush took place in a village in the district of Rangae early on Wednesday morning.

VIOLENCE-HIT SOUTH
Home to most of Thailand's 4% Muslim minority
Muslim rebels fought the government up to the mid-1980s
Suspected militants have upped attacks since 2004, targeting Buddhists
Security forces' response criticised by rights groups

About 10 armed men entered the homes and killed four men, one woman and four children, said Police Lt Jenwit Hunsiem.

Nine others were admitted to the local hospital, he added.

"It's the really brutal work of militants," Narathiwat regional governor Pracha Tearat told the AFP news agency .

"They kill everyone if they learn that those people take sides with the government."

Two weeks ago, suspected militants placed bombs at a restaurant, a prison and power plants in Narathiwat's state capital, which bears the same name as the province. One person was injured in the attack on the prison.

Thailand's three southern provinces - Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala - are the only regions with Muslim majorities in the Buddhist-dominated country.

The Muslim population has long complained of being treated as second-class citizens.


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