HAT YAI, Thailand (AP) — Two paramilitary volunteers were wounded Friday by gunmen in southern Thailand, as continuing violence in the region threatens to undermine what the Thai government says is the possibility of a small breakthrough in efforts to bring peace to the region.
The two volunteers in Narathiwat province were shot as they parked their motorcycles by the roadside, said police Capt. Wongduen Kamsri.
The shooting came a day came after attacks elsewhere in the province killed three soldiers and five civilians, including an 8-year-old boy. The soldiers were shot in the evening at a busy market, while the boy, his parents and an aunt were killed as they were driving to school.
About 7,000 people have been killed since a Muslim separatist insurgency flared in 2004 in Buddhist-dominated Thailand's three Muslim-majority provinces in its far south.
The government has been holding preliminary peace talks with Mara Patani, a coalition of southern insurgent groups with which it recently reached an agreement in principle to establish safe zones for the protection of civilians, but it is unclear if every insurgent group will honor it.
A statement from Mara Patani said it strongly condemns the attack on the schoolboy and his family.
"Mara Patani reiterates its commitment to resolving the Patani conflict through peaceful political dialogue and the establishment of safety zones," it said.
However, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, considered the most active militant group, is not a party to the talks, raising questions about whether the negotiations will actually help resolve the conflict. Some independent observers say the attacks show the talks have little connection to actual fighting on the ground.
"With or without the talks, insurgency violence is going to continue," said Don Pathan, a security analyst based in southern Thailand. "It will raise questions among the public about whether the negotiations are going anywhere."