NARATHIWAT: Unknown gunmen shot dead two Buddhist monks and injured two others in an attack at a temple in Thailand’s mainly Muslim south, the first such killing of a Buddhist monk in the restive region in more than three years.

An abbot and vice abbot were killed when at least six assailants believed to be dressed as members of a government security force burst into the Rattanupap temple in Narathiwat province and opened fire late on Friday, police said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and religious leaders condemned the attack in the mainly ethnic Malay province, the scene of a long-running insurgency against Thai rule.

“The prime minister condemns this outrageous act and has ordered officials to quickly investigate the incident and apprehend these criminals,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement. Thai Muslim leaders also spoke out against the shooting of monks.

“We urge perpetrators of violence in the southern border provinces from all sides to stop killing innocent people and religious leaders,” the Sheikhul Islam Office, which represents Thailand’s Muslim minority, said in a statement. Police said the assailants were still at large.

A separatist insurgency has dragged on in southern Thailand for more than fifteen years. More than 6,900 people have been killed and 13,000 injured in the area since 2004 when violence intensified, independent monitoring group Deep South Watch says.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2019