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Southern Thailand rebels shoot father and son

BANGKOK, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Security forces in southern Thailand stepped up patrols after suspected separatist rebels shot dead several civilians and wounded a 2-year-old boy.

Thai media reported most of the deaths were drive-by shootings by a passenger on a motorcycle, a method favored by rebel groups.

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Police and the military are focusing increased patrols in seven towns -- Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Sungai Kolok, Tak Bai, Betong and Hat Ya, the Nation newspaper reported.

The move is an effort to halt more deaths that could be planned to mark the 10th anniversary of the unrest.

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Rebel ethnic Malays -- nearly all Muslims -- have been fighting the officially and predominantly Buddhist Thai state for a decade in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces.

Much of the violence has been carried out by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, which is in discussions with the government to end the violence that has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people in the areas that border Malaysia.

"We have implemented even stricter security measures in the seven key towns," Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman of the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4, said.

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A series of shootings and bombings last week prompted the increase in patrols, including the shooting of a man and his 2-year-old son in Pattani's Sai Buri district.

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The man, 32, was riding his motorcycle home in the evening after picking up his son and daughter from school when he was shot by two men on another motorcycle, the Nation reported.

He sustained gunshot wounds to the neck, shoulder and leg and his son was shot in the stomach. The man's 6-year-old daughter received minor injuries when she fell from the motorcycle during the attack.

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Also last week, a 65-year-old man and his 60-year-old wife were killed in a mid-morning drive-by shooting in the Raman district of Yala province, the Bangkok Post reported. Witnesses said the people were traveling along a rural road headed to work at a rubber plantation when a gunman riding behind the driver of another motorcycle fired at them with a handgun.

The couple were shot in the head and died at the scene, the Post said.

The Nation reported five soldiers died and 10 were injured in Pattani district when a roadside bomb placed in 30-kilogram (66-pound) gas cylinder exploded one morning last week, sending their six-wheel truck crashing into a tree.

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The explosion destroyed the soldiers' Unimog transport vehicle and ripped a 9-foot-wide hole in the middle of the road, also injuring two soldiers and two nearby civilians.

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Thai authorities suspected BRN rebels in July of setting off a bomb in Yala that killed eight soldiers.

International groups including Amnesty International have criticized the rebels for their focus on so-called soft targets that include school teachers, traffic police officers and Buddhist priests.

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In July, the Post reported the drive-by shooting death of a 24-year-old school teacher in Yala. Suspected rebels, on a motorcycle, shot her while she was driving her own motorcycle.

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