Suspected Muslim separatists stormed two houses in a southern Thai village early Wednesday and opened fire on the families with assault rifles, killing nine people and injuring nine others, authorities said.
About 10 armed men entered the homes in the Rangae district of Narathiwat province and killed four men, one woman and four children. Nine others were admitted to the local hospital, police Lt. Jenwit Hunsiem said.
Regional army commander Lt. Gen. Kwanchart Klaharn said the incident occurred at about 1 a.m.
Authorities had not yet entered the area where the attack occurred because about 500 villagers had gathered and were blocking them from entering, said Narathiwat Gov. Pracha Terat, who made a plea on a local radio station for the villagers to disperse.
The hospitalized victims and hospital officials notified police of the attacks, he said.
"The initial report we've heard is that there are nine people dead in the houses, but authorities cannot enter the area because they fear that the situation will become (violent) like in Tanyonglimo," Pracha told The Associated Press by telephone.
He was referring to an incident in September in Narathiwat's Tanyonglimo district in which two marines were stabbed to death after being held captive overnight by residents who believed they had killed two civilians. Efforts to rescue the marines were hindered by women and children in the village who physically blocked outsiders from entering.
"The assailants cruelly murdered these villagers and spread rumors among other villagers that state officials did this," Pracha said of Wednesday's attack.
Army spokesman Col. Somkuan Saengpataraneth said 300 police and soldiers were prepared to enter the village but feared for their safety as tensions escalated.
"The security forces were informed by sources in the village that the insurgents have planted more than 10 bombs in the village and at the scene of the killings to trap state officials, so we have to be careful," Somkuan said, reports the AP. I.L.