Spike in violence tests Thai peace efforts

NARATHIWAT, Thailand - A spate of bomb and gun attacks in southern Thailand has left eight people dead including teachers and police officers, officials said Wednesday, despite a tentative deal to curb violence.

Malaysia - which is facilitating peace talks between the Thai government and Muslim rebels from the region - announced on July 12 that the two sides had agreed to try to avoid bloodshed during Ramadan.

But after a period of relative calm, violence spiked Tuesday with the deaths of six people, including two police officers visiting a local market to gather intelligence in Narathiwat Province, according to the Thai authorities.

The other victims were a couple in their early 50s shot and killed while driving home and two Muslim villagers who died after gunmen sprayed bullets at a tea shop.

And on Wednesday two female teachers were killed in a roadside bomb blast, while a third was seriously wounded, police said.

An insurgency in the Muslim-dominated region has claimed more than 5,700 lives since 2004 but talks between the Thai authorities and some rebel groups including the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) have brought tentative hopes of peace.

Thailand's National Security Council chief and lead peace negotiator Paradorn Pattanatabut said dialogue with the BRN would continue.He said insurgent attacks were still down sharply compared with last year's Ramadan.

"I can reassure you that the talks haven't failed," Paradorn told reporters.

"Whenever violence occurred we asked the BRN and they said through the facilitator that it was the work of small, uncontrollable groups who oppose the peace dialogue," he said.

Under the "Ramadan Peace Initiative", Thai authorities have removed a number of roadblocks and the military has withdrawn its personnel from some villages in a bid to ease tension.

After the initial drop in violence, the Thai government raised the idea of reducing troop numbers in the region.