BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai soldier and three suspected Muslim separatists were killed on Monday in a clash in southern Thailand, police said, as security forces in the region were on alert for attacks marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Thailand's three southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat were part of an independent Malay Muslim sultanate until they were annexed by predominantly Buddhist Thailand in 1909. Ethnic Malay Muslim separatists stepped up their fight against central government rule in 2004.
In the latest incident, police said a group of about six separatists began shooting at a police officer going home from a mosque in Narathiwat.
The officer shot and killed a separatist and soldiers from a nearby army camp came to his help after hearing the gunshots. The soldier was killed in the ensuing shootout in the Rueso district, along with two more separatists.
Thailand's military ruler, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, had warned security officials to be vigilant at the end of Ramadan, when violence often spikes.
Muslims in southern Thailand marked the end-of-Ramadan Eid-al Fitr holiday on Monday.
In another incident in Pattani, a roadside bomb was detonated on Sunday evening as soldiers were patrolling near a mosque. A girl was killed and five people were injured, including two soldiers, according to General Walit Rojanaphakdee, the military commander for the southern region.
On Friday, two people were killed and at least 40 injured by a car bomb in the town of Betong in Yala. Town center car bombings are relatively rare in the south, with many deaths caused by drive-by shootings or separatist ambushes.
Deep South Watch, a group that monitors the region, says a total of 631 people have been killed and 986 wounded during the month of Ramadan over the past 10 years. In all, more than 6,150 people have been killed.
(Reporting By Kaweewit Kaewjinda, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Surapan Boonthanom; Editing by Robert Birsel)