Two suspected Muslim insurgents shot to death a 60-year-old Buddhist monk and wounded another as they collected food from the faithful Friday in southern Thailand, police said. The assailants opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles as the monks made their daily alms rounds through a Buddhist community in Yala province, one of three southernmost provinces where more than 3,400 people have been killed in a five-year-old separatist insurgency. Police Lt Col Niyom Ruenraeng said the attackers likely hoped to incite conflict between Buddhists and Muslims following the killing of 10 people at a mosque in neighboring Narathiwat province on Monday.
In a related incident in Narathiwat, the army detained two young men found in possession of leaflets accusing the government of masterminding the June 8 mosque massacre.
The two were seized Thursday night as they distributed the leaflets, said Army 2nd Lt Yothi Youngdam.
Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces -- the only Muslim-majority provinces in predominantly Buddhist Thailand and the focus of the separatist insurgency -- are governed by martial law. The military can hold the suspects for up to 30 days without charge under martial law provisions.
Since the mosque attack, rumors have circulated among some villagers that government authorities were behind the shootings and a number of incidents have followed in recent days including a bomb explosion and arson.
The government has denied involvement in one of the deadliest incidents of the insurgency and has stepped up security across the region.
Five or six men shot automatic rifles into the mosque in Joh-I-Rong district, according to police. Among the dead was the mosque's imam, or prayer leader.
Security forces sometimes blame the insurgents for attacks on Muslim individuals and institutions, claiming they mean to stir up hatred to boost their cause and trigger sectarian strife. But it is widely believed that some local Buddhists, with the help of rogue security forces, have their own vigilante groups to fight against suspected insurgents.