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Attackers Burn Schools, Kill 4 Soldiers in Thailand - 2004-01-04

Four Thai soldiers were killed during a raid on a military compound in southern Thailand. The attack came after 18 schools were set on fire in the same area.

The four soldiers were killed early Sunday morning while guarding an army depot in the southern region of Narathiwat, more than 1,100 kilometers from Bangkok. The attackers stole dozens of weapons.

The attack followed arson attacks that damaged 18 schools in the area. No one was injured in the school fires.

A Thai Army spokesman said a group of 30 attackers launched a series of attacks in nine districts of two provinces, Narathiwat and Yala, both near the border with neighboring Malaysia.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cut short a vacation to call for an urgent meeting with security agencies.

The attack marks a fresh round of violence in the largely Muslim south of Thailand. About 10 percent of Thailand's population is Muslim, with most Muslims living in the southern provinces.

The region saw Muslim insurgency two decades ago. Some remnants of insurgent groups are now alleged to be involved in criminal gangs, extortion, and illegal trade between Thailand and neighboring Malaysia.

Since 2001, the region was hit by a wave of attacks on railways, government offices and military and police weapons depots, which left more than 50 soldiers, police officers and civilians dead.

Authorities say they are mounting a wide search operation for suspects in Sunday's attack, and have contacted neighboring Malaysia for help in keeping the attackers from crossing the border.