Bangkok - Three brothers including a three-year-old have been shot dead in Thailand's violence-plagued deep south and their pregnant mother injured, police said on Tuesday.
The boys, aged three, five and nine, were gunned down after returning from evening prayers on Monday at a mosque in a volatile district of Narathiwat, one of three Muslim-majority southern provinces blighted by a decade-long insurgency.
Their pregnant mother and father were also shot in the attack but survived, according to police in Bacho district.
Colonel Pramote Promin, southern region military spokesman, said he could not confirm if the deaths were related to the rebellion against Thai rule.
“We have to wait for the police investigation. But society must condemn the perpetrators of this incident,” he added.
Local media reports said gunmen sprayed the Muslim family's remote home with bullets, wounding the boys who died later in hospital.
More than 5 900 people - the majority of them civilians - have been killed in the conflict waged by shadowy insurgents seeking greater autonomy from Buddhist-majority Thailand, which annexed the region a century ago.
Around 40 people have been killed in the restive region so far this year, according to monitors Deep South Watch.
Dozens of children have been killed either by insurgents or security forces since the start of the bloodshed in 2004, prompting the United Nations to call for an end to violence against youngsters in the region.
Mental health workers in the south say children are increasingly showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder - including anger, introversion and fear - caused by living in the conflict zone.
Local authorities say there are more than 5 000 orphans across the three southern provinces.
The roots of the insurgency draw on long-standing anger at Thailand's efforts to assimilate ethnic Malay Muslims and at a perceived lack of respect for local language, religion and customs.
Peace talks between some rebel groups and Thai authorities have hit the buffers as ongoing political turmoil in Bangkok preoccupies the government.
Rebels, including those from the shadowy Barisan Revolusi Nasional which is believed to command many of the grassroots fighters, have made a series of demands so that peace talks can continue.
As yet there has not been a full response from the Thai side. - AFP