BANGKOK - Three government officials were shot dead on Wednesday in Thailand's insurgency-stricken south - among them a woman who was then beheaded, police told AFP.
The trio, a village chief and two women assisting him, were gunned down as they drove on a remote road after attending a meeting in a notorious security 'Red Zone' in Yala province, a hotbed of the insurgency.
"One woman was shot and then beheaded, while another woman and a man were also shot dead," said Police Lieutenant Virasak Suwannadecha said, adding the victims were all Thai Buddhists.
Thailand's three Muslim-majority southernmost provinces are in the grip of a decade-long insurgency which has seen 6,000 people killed - the majority of them civilians.
Shadowy militants are blamed for many of the most brutal attacks in their battle to win a form of autonomy from Thailand, which colonised the culturally-distinct region over a century ago.
Peace talks with insurgents representing some of the main groups have unofficially been suspended amid a six-month political crisis in Bangkok.
Observers say there has been a spike in the violence following Thailand's failure to respond to their demands to work towards a road map for peace.
They have stated they want a level of autonomy from Thailand, but have so far fallen short of asking for full separation at the talks.
Many local Malay-Muslim accuse Thai authorities of widespread human rights abuses and a lack of respect for their religion, culture and language.
Those grievances are seized upon by the militants as a reason for targeted killings of representatives of the Thai state, including teachers, government officials and security forces.
Rights groups accuse Thai security forces of acting with impunity and inflaming the situation with heavy-handed tactics.
But they have expressed hope the stalled peace process will be revived especially as Thailand appears to now recognise the need for a political solution to the 10-year conflict.