Nobody lingers any more over tea and cigarettes at the scruffy village teashop in Tanyong Limo. Its kitchen door is locked and its owner says it's likely to stay that way for another month. That's hardly surprising, given that two men died in the shop last month in a hail of bullets fired from a passing truck after evening prayers. More chilling is the fact that there are few customers left in the village in Narathiwat province, as dozens of men have fled in fear of a massive police manhunt. In Thailand's troubled south, drive-by shootings, bombings and arson attacks have become daily hazards since a shadowy separatist insurgency began in January last year. More than 1,000 people have died in the violence. Most murders go unsolved, though, so the chance of finding the latest drive-by shooters seemed remote. What happened next in Tanyong Limo has brought the full weight of the law to bear on the fearful Muslim community. Two Thai marines stationed nearby arrived at the scene, reportedly in response to a phone call. Both were familiar faces in the village. However, an angry crowd outside the teashop turned against the soldiers, who were accused of involvement in the shootings and taken hostage. The next day, during a tense standoff with Thai officials at the entrance to the village, the two marines were tortured, beaten and killed. Since then, the village has been the focus of national outrage over the brutal killings, amid concerns that the authorities are ceding ground to militants in the Muslim-dominated south. Police have arrested 15 people in connection with the murders and say they are tracking 19 more suspects, sparking panic in Tanyong Limo, where fear and suspicion of the authorities has run wild. 'The people who know what happened don't dare to return home because the police may be looking for them. It's better they don't come back, even if they're innocent,' said Ropa Mani, a teacher who lives near the teashop. Like other residents, he claims to have seen nothing and refuses to name those who did. Muslim leaders who have penetrated the fog of silence say there is frustration in the community over the focus on who killed the marines and not on the drive-by shooting that triggered the incident. Security forces are widely suspected of ordering extrajudicial killings of suspected militants, though the authorities have denied this. Adding to suspicions, villagers in Tanyong Limo claimed military officers had visited their community three days earlier with a list of suspected militants they wanted to question. None of those named came forward to surrender, so villagers were braced for trouble, said Peerayot Rohimmula, an opposition MP in Pattani. 'Nobody wanted this tragedy to happen,' he said. 'Now people are living in a state of fear.' That may be exactly the intent of militants, who have penetrated hundreds of Muslim villages in the three southernmost provinces. Military sources say the Tanyong Limo shooting probably was staged to provide a pretext for a bloody confrontation with the authorities. It also provided another chance for militants to channel local anger and frustration against the government. During the standoff, the village was barricaded and dozens of women and children stood guard on the main road to the village, preventing officials negotiating face to face with the hostage takers. A similar tactic was used the previous month to stop officials entering Ban Lahan, a village near the Malaysian border, after a shooting blamed on Thai authorities. That village remains blocked, to the frustration of officials who say they are fighting a difficult psychological battle with an extremely nimble enemy. 'You can't go in and prove anything, so [militants] spread rumours. It's a very dangerous situation,' said Colonel Songwit Nongpakdee, a taskforce commander in Narathiwat province.