A volunteer ranger and an 8-year-old girl were also slightly wounded on Saturday in the exchange of gunfire during a raid on a suspected insurgent hideout in Yaring District.
Security forces surrounded a house in Tambon Talorkapor at 5am, after receiving information that some insurgents involved in Thursday’s deadly shooting at Bukoh School in Yaring were hiding there.
During the raid, both sides clashed for more than five hours. Two suspected insurgents were later found shot dead inside the house. Two AK-47 assault rifles and a 9mm pistol were seized.
The dead men were identified as Abdulloh Samae, 30, wanted on eight arrest warrants; and Abdulloh Jaelong, 38, wanted on one warrant.
Abdulloh was said to have sustained injuries in an earlier clash with officers and was hiding inside the house before security forces surrounded it.
During the operation, Islamic leaders and prominent local figures were called in to persuade the two suspects to surrender. However, the two men refused and opened fire, authorities said.
The injured ranger, Tida Bua-ngam, 40, was sent to Pattani Hospital, while the girl was sent to Yaring Hospital. A military source said she had been grazed by a bullet but not seriously injured.
Authorities believed one of the dead men was involved in the school shootout on Thursday in which four defence volunteers were shot dead.
The four men killed on Thursday were all Muslims and were guarding the school when attackers riding motorcycles opened fire just before lunchtime with students mere metres away.
Pattani provincial police commander Piyawat Chalermsri told AFP on Saturday that he was “confident that [the two slain men] are the same group who carried out the attack on Thursday”.
Authorities have also detained one suspect and are questioning five others.
Unicef Thailand representative Thomas Davin said on Friday that one child in the Bukoh school attack was reportedly injured by debris and some who may have witnessed the attack could face long term psychological trauma.
“This attack has undoubtedly put the school children, the teachers and school personnel in harm’s way. It has put children at grave risk of injury or death,” he said.
“Such violence could also affect parents’ willingness to send their children to school – potentially to the detriment of many children’s learning and future development.”
More than 100 teachers have been killed during the 15-year-old southern insurgency that has taken an estimated 6,700 lives in total. Many teachers have been slain for their perceived collaboration with the central government, which has led to the use of armed guards at schools.
The death toll in the conflict dropped to a record low last year as the military government tightened security operations. But there has been an uptick in violence in recent weeks, as rebels show they remain able to carry out more targeted operations.
In a rare statement dated Jan 4 the main rebel group – Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) – swore to “keep fighting” while warning people not to help or support the state.
But Thai authorities, as well as the Malaysian facilitator of peace talks, have recently expressed confidence they will make progress soon.
Former 4th Army commander Udomchai Thammasarorat said at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Thailand on Friday that he “wants to find a solution to exit from the violence” and he has urged the southern army commander to try and ensure public safety.
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