Three killed as Islamic militants launch more than 20 attacks in southern Thailand

At least three people were killed, two others injured and dozens of suspected Muslim insurgents arrested as militants attacked more than 20 government targets in a southern Thai province, officials said Tuesday.

Scores of militants launched the coordinated attacks Monday night on facilities such as police stations, road check points and schools in Yala province, said provincial police chief Maj. Gen. Paitoon Choochaiya.

Paitoon said a police officer and two suspected insurgents were killed in Yala. Earlier, authorities said five people had died in Yala and one in the neighboring province of Pattani.

The attacks came after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned from a brief visit to Narathiwat province, which along with Yala and Pattani has become the scene of almost daily sectarian violence since January last year that has killed more than 1,100 people.

Paitoon dismissed speculation that the attacks were meant as a challenge to Thaksin, who came to Narathiwat to take part in a Buddhist ceremony in which money and other support was offered to 105 Buddhist monasteries in the predominantly Muslim southern provinces. The rest of Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, and southern Muslims complain of discrimination.

Thaksin's motorcade was forced to make a detour when security forces found a 10-kilogram (22-pound) bomb planted in a tree about 200 meters (yards) from a restaurant where he had planned to eat lunch, Police Col. Nukul Kra Kraithong said.

Bomb experts successfully defused the bomb, Nukul said, AP reported. V.A.

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