BANGKOK- Three members of a Thai bomb disposal squad were killed Monday as they tried to defuse a device buried in a road in the country's insurgency-racked south, according to police.
The police team was called after a bomb was detected underneath the road in the Bacho district of Narathiwat province - a hotbed of the near decade-long insurgency against Thai rule.
The bomb went off as they tried to make it safe and killed the men instantly, a police officer said requesting anonymity.
"They were experienced members of the police bomb squad who had worked for a long time in the south," he said, adding a second bomb on the same stretch of road was later found and defused successfully.
Rebels fighting for autonomy in Thailand's Muslim-majority south frequently target security forces with roadside bombs.
Experts say the insurgents are deploying increasingly sophisticated and powerful devices, often packed with ball bearings to cause maximum damage.
Bomb squad members are frequently the first on the scene after an attack or once a bomb has been found, leaving them vulnerable to secondary devices planted nearby.
The conflict has left more than 5,700 people dead in the south, the majority of them civilians.
Shadowy groups of Muslim militants have waged near-daily bomb and gun attacks, targeting security forces and civilians from both the Buddhist and Muslim communities.
Violence erupted in 2004 in the Muslim-majority region bordering Malaysia, which was annexed by Thailand more than a century ago.
Bloodshed has continued despite several rounds of tentative peace talks hosted by Malaysia between the Thai authorities and some rebel groups.
But another round of discussions scheduled for October has been postponed amid continuing violence, raising doubts about the likely success of the talks.