muslims killing buddhists

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    Suspected militants have beheaded an elderly man, the second Buddhist decapitated in a week, and shot dead two Buddhist workers in southern Thailand in revenge for the October deaths of 85 Muslim protesters.

    The growing number of apparent revenge killings prompted a leading Islamic cleric to urge Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to apologise to families of the dead protesters, most of whom died of suffocation in army custody.

    But Mr Thaksin, who has said he regretted the deaths, responded by blasting his own officials for delaying extra payments to officials tackling the unrest in the largely Muslim and relatively poor region and to teachers.

    The latest victim in more than 10 months of violence in the region was a 60-year-old rubber tapper, whose body and severed head were found in a plantation hut in Narathiwat province.

    Beside the corpse were two handwritten notes saying the beheading was intended to avenge the Muslim protesters, 78 of whom died in overcrowded army trucks after a demonstration outside Narathiwat's Tak Bai police station, police said.

    "This is trivial compared to the killings of the innocents at Tak Bai," one officer quoted the note as saying.

    A week ago, the severed head and body of a Buddhist village leader in another part of Narathiwat were found two kilometres apart with a similar note of revenge.

    A Buddhist couple was shot dead by gunmen on a motorcycle while they were riding to work in neighbouring Yala province on Tuesday, police said.

    At least 22 people, almost all of them Buddhists, have been killed since the October 25 Tak Bai deaths, which led to warnings from Muslim clerics and analysts that the "massacre" could trigger reprisal attacks.

    Abdulrahman Abdulsahad, chairman of Narathiwat's provincial Islamic council, suggested an apology from Mr Thaksin could soothe Muslim outrage.

    Mr Thaksin's response so far has been to promise more financial assistance to the impoverished region, which has a century-long history of often violent separatism from the rest of predominantly Buddhist Thailand.


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