Outraged Buddhist villagers in southern Thailand confronted the army chief parading the charred body of a woman killed by Islamic insurgents.
The demonstration was the latest sign of fraying tempers among Buddhists in the deep south, the only place dominated by Muslims in overwhelmingly Buddhist Thailand.
An Islamic insurgency in the south has left more than 2,000 people dead in the past three years, and the government's failure to quell the violence increasingly involving innocent bystanders has raised fears that Buddhist civilians may start taking the law into their own hands.
"We have no place to retreat. They (Muslim insurgents) kill even women and the elderly," read a banner carried by the 300 Buddhist protesters who rallied outside Yala province's local government hall, where army commander Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin was meeting with officials.
"The government must provide better security ... and not let people die every day," read another banner.
Representatives of the demonstrators met with Sonthi, and took him out of the hall to see the body.
Assailants fatally shot Patcharaporn Bunmat, 25, a Buddhist and recent college graduate, as she rode a motorcycle to work in Yala's Muang district earlier Wednesday, said police Lt. Poompetch Pipatpetchapoom.
Her attackers burned her body before fleeing. Police said the body was unrecognizable and could only be identified later by her family, who recognized her motorcycle.
The attack occurred in the same district being visited by Sonthi, who led the September coup that ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Sonthi and his colleagues remain the power behind the interim government they appointed.
Buddhist villagers carried Patcharaporn's corpse, wrapped in white cloth and placed in a coffin, to the provincial hall. They demanded to meet Sonthi, the first Muslim in the country's highest military position.
The demonstrators demanded that authorities increase the number of "village defense volunteers" a government-paid militia and that they maintain a strong military presence and immediately arrest culprits.
Sonthi told military commanders to take care of the matters. However, the protest continued into the evening and demonstrators demanded to meet with Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont. A funeral for the victim, with Buddhist monks chanting, was also held at the protest site in front of the hall.
Bombings and drive-by shootings occur almost daily in the deep south.
In other violence Wednesday, a Buddhist man driving a motorcycle died and a woman on the back of the bike was wounded in a drive-by shooting in Yala's Raman district, while two Muslim men were seriously injured in a shooting in Narathiwat province's Rue So district.
In nearby Pattani province's Yarang district, three revenue department officers were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded as their van passed.
Sonthi, who arrived in the south Wednesday morning, met with officials in the area to boost morale and discuss security issues ahead of the weekend's traditional Thai New Year's holiday. Officials have been instructed to be especially alerted during the period.
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