PATTANI, Thailand (AP) — A roadside bombing Friday in Thailand's insurgency-plagued south killed two provincial officials, including a deputy governor who became the highest-ranking civilian official to die in the insurgency in nearly a decade.
A group of suspected militants hid an improvised bomb on a road and detonated it as the motorcade for Yala province's deputy governor, Issara Thongthawat, passed by in Yala's Bannang Sata district, Police Col. Charoen Thammakhan said. He said Issara and provincial clerk Chaovalit Chairerk were traveling in the same car as they headed to a festival in a rural village.
The explosion immediately killed Chaovalit, badly damaging the car and leaving a crater in the road, Charoen said.
Issara later died at a hospital, he said. He's the highest-ranking administrative official to be killed in the insurgency since another deputy provincial governor was shot and killed in 2004.
The car's driver was severely wounded and was in a coma, Charoen said.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in near-daily violence in Thailand's Muslim-dominated three southernmost provinces since the insurgency erupted in 2004. The militants have mainly targeted security forces and teachers, who are seen as representatives of the government of the predominantly Buddhist nation.
Thailand's government held a first round of peace talks with Muslim separatist leaders in Malaysia last month, although officials acknowledged that it would take time before the insurgency ends.
"During the transitional period of the peace talks, there will be incidents from opposition groups who want to express their disagreement," National Security Council Secretary-General Lt. Gen. Paradorn Pattanathabutr said Friday. "They will stage incidents to warn people not to cooperate with the government or to destroy the trust in the government's peace process."
Muslims in the region, which was an independent Islamic sultanate until it was annexed by Thailand in the early 20th century, have long complained of discrimination by the central government, and the insurgents are thought to be fighting for autonomy. But the insurgency remains murky, with militants making no public pronouncements on their goals.