Black-clad gunmen on motorbikes have shot two Buddhist monks dead, and wounded two others in southern Thailand.
Thailand’s military leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha vowed on Saturday to “punish” those responsible for storming a Buddhist temple near Malaysia’s border, which left two monks dead.
Officials reported that suspected Muslim gunmen who were dressed in black arrived on motorbikes at the Rattanaupap temple in the southern province of Narathiwat, at around 7:30pm local time on Friday (12:30 UTC).
The two men then entered the building from the back and shot dead two monks, leaving two others wounded. One of those killed was the temple’s abbot.
No group has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, the first one to target monks for more than three years.
Local monks were told to suspend morning alms collection starting from Saturday in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces. Security was also stepped up to protect Islamic leaders, after an imam in the same region was shot dead last week.
The attack on the temple on Friday was one of several violent incidents in Narathiwat, including a roadside bombing which wounded five members of the security forces, as well as a shootout between paramilitary rangers and five armed men, which left one of the gunmen dead.
Furthermore, a drive-by shooting on January 10th in neighbouring Pattani province killed four civil defence volunteers.
“The ghastly attack on Buddhist monks by insurgents in Thailand’s deep south is morally reprehensible, and considered as a war crime. Those responsible should be held to account,” said Brad Adams, Asia’s director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW has blamed the renewed violence on the militant group, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).
The BRN has been leading a separatist campaign over the past 15 years, which has left nearly 7,000 people, including at least 23 monks dead.
Narathiwat is one of Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, the only ones with Muslim majorities in the Buddhist-dominated country. The three provinces and a small part of neighbouring Songkhla were part of a sultanate annexed by Thailand in 1909, and tensions have simmered ever since.
The Thai military government has taken part in talks brokered by Malaysia since 2015, which aim to end the violence, but the BRN has stayed out of the dialogue.
This process was stalled last year, and Bangkok has signalled that it will return to the talks this year.