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ASIA: Two suspected militants killed in shootout in Thai south

07 Nov 2008 3:31 PM

YALA, Thailand, Nov 7 AFP - Two separatist militants were shot dead in apre-dawn gun battle today with security forces in southern Thailand.

Police said more than 100 military and police officers sealed off a hut in Yala province after discovering five suspected militants were inside.

After a 20-minute exchange of gunfire, the bodies of two men, aged 21 and 25, were found outside the hut, along with two hand grenades and an assault rifle inside. Three other suspects escaped.

The assault came two days after suspected separatist militants killed five civilians and burnt down a school, following twin bomb blasts which wounded74 people a day earlier in Yala province - what the police said was one ofthe biggest assaults on civilians since the rebellion flared in early 2004.

The latest attacks came a week after Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat visited the Muslim-majority south and told reporters the insurgency seemed to have eased.

More than 3,400 people have been killed in attacks by the shadowy insurgentgroups operating in the region since January 2004, and successive governments have struggled to quell the unrest.

The three southern provinces were an ethnic Malay sultanate until largely Buddhist Thailand annexed the region in 1902, provoking decades of tensions.

AFP apm =0A