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Two Muslim village chiefs killed in Thai south

Gunmen shoot dead 2 Muslim village chiefs in Thailand

Two Muslim village leaders were killed in drive-by shootings in Thailand's restive southernmost provinces, police said on Sunday.

The attacks took place at the weekend in Yala and Pattani, two of the three mainly Muslim provinces in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, which have been plagued by five years of separatist violence.

Gunmen on a motorcycle killed an assistant village chief in the Muang district of Yala early Sunday, police said.

Late on Saturday, a village headman was shot dead in front of his home in Yaring, Pattani by unknown assailants riding in a pickup truck armed with M-16 assault rifles.

The attacks came during a two-day visit to the region by Bangkok-based diplomats from member countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the world's largest Muslim body, which has criticized Thai security forces for their handling of the conflict.

The OIC demanded an end to attacks on Muslims after 11 were shot dead while praying in a mosque in southern Thailand in June.

Close to 3,500 people have been killed since 2004 in Thailand's deep south. The 30,000 troops deployed to the region, which was once an independent Malay-Muslim sultanate, have made little progress towards quelling the unrest.