BANGKOK, Thailand — A 60-year-old Buddhist was beheaded in troubled southern Thailand early Tuesday in revenge for the deaths of 87 Muslim protesters two weeks ago, most of them in army custody, police said.
The man, identified only as Kaew, was killed at 1:00 am (1800 GMT) at his home in the southern province of Narathiwat, police said.
His attackers left notes on his body saying he was killed in revenge for the deaths last month of 87 Muslim protesters in Narathiwat’s Tak Bai area, 78 of whom suffocated or were crushed to death after being piled onto army trucks.
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“He was beheaded at his house. There were four leaflets left on his body saying: ‘It is less than what you did to innocent people at Tak Bai’,” a police statement said.
“The police are investigating and believe the attackers want to create more unrest in the south,” it said.
Kaew, a plantation worker originally from the country’s northeast, was the latest victim from a series of reprisal attacks against “soft” Buddhist targets since the tragedy at Tak Bai.
A Buddhist village leader was beheaded last week in Narathiwat. His attackers left behind a handwritten leaflet also saying the killing was in revenge for Tak Bai.
A rubber tapper in his 60s was beheaded in May in Narathiwat but no note was left with the body.
Analysts have warned that militants in southern Thailand, where more than 540 people have died this year in an insurgency that flared in January, could resort to tactics similar to those used in Iraq, including kidnappings and beheadings.
In other violence, a man and his wife, both Buddhist factory workers, were shot dead as they traveled to work on Tuesday in the neighboring province of Yala.
They were killed by two men riding a motorcycle, a common tactic used by militants in the region.
Only four percent of the population in mainly Buddhist Thailand are Muslims but they are in a majority in four southern provinces where separatists, religious extremists and the disaffected are battling the authorities.
“Innocent people are in danger. Four to five people a day are shot now from one or two before,” Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters on Tuesday.
Thaksin, under pressure at home and abroad over the Tak Bai deaths, has set up an independent inquiry into the deaths.
The head of the army in the south, Lieutenant General Pisarn Wattanawongkiri, told the inquiry team Tuesday he had not been present when the Muslim men were piled onto the tracks, inquiry chairman Pichet Sunthornpipit told reporters.
The general also said that newspaper pictures showing men bound and lying on top of each other on the back of a truck were “not true because they were told to sit not lie down”.
Relatives said Tuesday that 40 people remained missing after the tragedy, a claim denied by the army and government.
They said the missing men could have left the area and passed into neighboring Malaysia without telling their families, or some may be among the 22 victims of Tak Bai who were buried before they could be identified.
A group representing Muslims in Thailand said Tuesday it was setting up its own inquiry.
“We found that some of our information did not match the information from the government. We need to find the truth,” said Paisarn Promyong, deputy secretary of the Islamic Committee of Thailand.