Thai troops kill 5, arrest 19 in Muslim south

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BANGKOK, Oct 8 (Reuters) Thai security forces killed five suspected Muslim militants and arrested 19 men and women after a brief clash in Thailand's rebellious far south today, an army spokesman said.

Police and soldiers also found three rifles and a pistol in a Muslim village in Songkhla province, one of four provinces where more than 2,500 people have been killed in the three-year insurgency, Colonel Acra Tiproch said.

''They came to threaten people in the village not to cooperate with the authorities and we clashed with them,'' he said.

Security personnel, along with Buddhist monks and government schoolteachers, are prime targets of a separatist insurgency which re-emerged in January 2004 in the region, a former Muslim sultanate annexed by Thailand about a century ago.

Since July, security forces have launched almost daily raids on suspected insurgent hideouts in villages and towns and have detained dozens of people without charge.

Human rights groups are critical, saying detainees are exposed to potential abuses by the army, which is operating under martial law that grants soldiers immunity from prosecution.

REUTERS PD RK1720

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