Siriporn Sae-aui has never heard of the term 'ethnic cleansing'. But what she does know is that she is the last ethnic Chinese left in her village in southern Thailand. Ms Siriporn says she too may flee after Muslim insurgents shot dead her grandmother, Sek, as she cleaned her teeth on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Over the past two years, Ms Siriporn, 24, has watched five other Chinese families driven from the coastal hamlet in Panare district, east of Pattani in Thailand's Muslim deep south. All fish traders, they served the Muslim fishermen who ply local waters in small, multicoloured boats - a close-knit community relationship that stretches back centuries. The Chinese families' houses sit shuttered and abandoned. 'I just cannot explain how something like this could happen,' she said in her small shophouse that backs on to an estuary canal. 'They crept alongside the house and stuck their guns through the ventilation holes and shot my grandmother. She was standing up cleaning her teeth. She didn't even have a chance to run.' Siriporn's grandfather escaped and is living in hiding with other relatives. Ms Siriporn leaves the village before dark and sleeps at the house of a friend outside. She returns to work each day. 'It is my duty for my relatives and for my ancestors. We have always been here. I don't want to leave.' She says her Muslim neighbours have been very supportive since the killing, saying they were deeply horrified at the attack. Ms Siriporn's family are Buddhist, the majority religion in Thailand, apart from Pattani, and Yala and Narathiwat - two provinces bordering Malaysia that were once part of Pattani and part of a Muslim Malay state. She converted to Islam after a recent marriage, but still observes Chinese traditions. 'We have always got on in this village ... everyone looks after each other,' she said. 'None of us can understand why the insurgents are doing this ... it is like they want to split us apart. I knew of the violence elsewhere in the area but we always thought it could never happen to us.' As she speaks, a Muslim woman drops by to sell two plump tuna caught that morning. 'It is all so terribly sad,' the woman said. 'This is not the way we live.' Ms Siriporn's grandmother was one of nine people killed during the Lunar New Year across the three provinces as insurgents staged 28 fire-bombings and shootings. More than 50 people were injured. It was the first time ethnic Chinese residents and businesses had been targeted en masse in an insurgency that has killed an estimated 2,000 people in the past three years in bombings, shootings and beheadings. The violence has surged since the military coup last September that ended prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's five year rule. The insurgents have never claimed responsibility or outlined their goals despite decades of separatist activity - leading to a claim from terrorism scholar Zachary Abuza that they are seeking 'de facto ethnic cleansing' by driving Thai and Chinese Buddhists out. The use of the term is sparking intense debate in the south, particularly since Muslims linked to government institutions have also been targeted. The Lunar New Year also saw Chinese-owned car dealerships and rubber warehouses torched in an apparent attempt to intensify the economic impact on the depressed area. Previously a sceptic when it came to the threat posed by the insurgency, prominent Chinese businessman Anusart Suwanmongkol said he was fast changing his views. 'We don't know who they are or what they want, but these people are having a real impact now,' the former national senator said. 'The Chinese and the Muslims have always rubbed along down here but now there is fear and confusion among ordinary people on all sides. The seeds of mistrust have been sown very successfully. 'My family has been here for many generations and we have friends right across the community ... it is horrible to see what is starting to happen. Ordinary Muslims are scared, ordinary Buddhists are scared.' Other businessmen warned that the insurgency was taking a marked toll on the economy, and particularly services-based businesses such as tourism. Many are illegally arming themselves, sending their families away and considering leaving too. Pattani Chamber of Commerce chief Sirichai Piticharoen is determined to stay, despite the Lunar New Year torching of his new Chevrolet dealership on Pattani's outskirts. The showroom windows were raked with gunfire and several cars torched. Damage was estimated at 50 million baht (HK$11.7 million). 'This will not make me run away,' he said as he surveyed the ruins of his dealership, now under armed guard. 'I came here 20 years ago from Bangkok because I thought there was opportunity in the south. I still believe that most Buddhists and Muslims can get along to the benefit of all.'