NARATHIWAT — Security forces have been placed on full alert in the southern province of Narathiwat, where the start of public schools' second semester has coincided with a spate of drive-by shootings that killed four civilians over the weekend.
Three men were shot and killed while they were drinking alcohol in front of a grocery store in Songkhla province on Saturday, and another woman was shot dead while she was sitting with neighbours in front of a house in Narathiwat last night.
A 19-year-old student from Princess of Naradhiwas University was also severely injured after two gunmen opened fire at her while she was riding a motorcycle home on Sunday evening.
Pol.Col. Amphon Buarabporn, a senior police officer based in Songkhla province, said the attacks were most likely engineered by local Muslim insurgents, though he added that the authorities have yet to identify the specific militant group behind the shootings.
"I believe the attacks are meant as a retaliation against security forces, and to terrorise local people," said Pol.Col. Amphon.
Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesperson of the Internal Security Operation Command in the region, also blamed this weekend’s shootings on separatists, who he described as "heretics of their religion."
Thailand’s southern border provinces have been a hotbed of Islamic separatist violence for the past decade. Known as the "Deep South," the three provinces are home to many Muslims, a stark contrast to the Buddhist population that dominates the rest of the country.
Last month, suspected insurgents torched six public schools in what Thai officials describe as a symbolic attack against the central authorities.
As a result of the recent uptick in violence, hundreds of soldiers, policemen, and armed volunteers were deployed throughout Narathiwat province this morning to ensure that the first day of school would not be targeted by militants. Security officers could be seen manning checkpoints, inspecting vehicles, and guarding a number of schools in the area.
A security officer said authorities were afraid that insurgents may disguise themselves as civilians and slip past checkpoints to "cause atrocities."
However, as of Monday afternoon, no violent incidents have been reported so far.
Over the past decade, more than 5,000 people have been killed in the separatist violence in the Deep South, which is believed to have been waged by several shadowy Islamist groups who are seeking to establish an independent Islamic state.
To combat the tide of separatist attacks, Thai authorities have deployed tens of thousands of security officers in the three provinces.
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