PATTANI, THAILAND (AP) - A roadside bomb killed four paramilitary rangers on an intelligence-gathering operation in insurgency-plagued southern Thailand, the army spokesman said Thursday.
The rangers were returning to their base in a pickup truck when the bomb detonated in Pattani, one of three southern provinces that have faced an Islamic insurgency since early 2004, Col. Parinya Chaidilok said.
“The insurgents buried a fire extinguisher that contained explosives on the roadside,” Parinya said. “We believe the rangers were targeted because they were gathering intelligence for the army.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Thousands of government-hired paramilitary rangers have been deployed in the area. The military has recruited local Muslims and Buddhists to join the army-trained units, hoping their familiarity with the geography and people will give authorities an edge over insurgents.
But many Muslims hold a deep hatred of the low-paid rangers, accusing them of abuses and human rights violations.
The Islamic separatist insurgency has led to the deaths of more than 3,300 people since early 2004 in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat _ the only predominantly Muslim provinces in a country that is 90 percent Buddhist.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced last week that 4,000 more soldiers and other security personnel would be deployed to the region, supplementing more than 60,000 already there.
A massive counterinsurgency effort has recently slowed the pace of attacks but has shown little sign of ending the violence. Abhisit acknowledged the reinforcements were needed because of the failure to restore security.
The insurgents’ attacks _ which include drive-by shootings and bombings _ are believed intended to frighten Buddhist residents into leaving the area. Their identity and precise goals have never been publicly declared.