A bomb blast in Thailand's insurgency-plagued south killed two top provincial officials yesterday, authorities said, blaming rebels seeking to derail peace talks.
Issara Thongthawat, deputy governor of Yala province, was killed along with the province's permanent secretary responsible for security, Chavalit Krairisk, after a roadside bomb struck their vehicle, officials said.
Issara, 56, died after being taken to hospital, army spokesman Colonel Pramote Promin said. He said the deputy governor appeared to have been targeted by militants while on his way to attend a local food fair.
"Explosive material was put inside a gas cylinder and hidden under the road," he said. "His driver is still in critical condition."
More than 5,500 people have been killed in nine years of bloodshed in Thailand's Muslim-majority south near the border with Malaysia, with shadowy insurgent groups blamed for near-daily bombings and shootings.
Security personnel and those connected with the government are regularly targeted, as well as Muslims perceived to be collaborating with the authorities.
Thailand held its first official peace talks with southern insurgents last week, with a one-day meeting with representatives of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional in Kuala Lumpur. But while talks were said to be cordial, and a further round was set for April 29, attacks have continued.
Thai National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut, who headed the government delegation, said the bomb blast would not jeopardise the talks. "Dialogue must go ahead while strict security measures must be taken to protect officials and public lives and property," he said. "This is the work of people who do not support peace talks and want the process to stall."
Little is known about the various militant groups' identities, structures or aims, and questions remain over the ability of older militant leaders to rein in attacks by younger insurgents.
This week, a Thai marine was abducted from his home and killed in what police described as a revenge attack by militants who carried out a botched raid on a military base in February in which 16 rebels were killed. His blindfolded body was found with two gunshot wounds.