(Reuters) – Suspected separatist insurgents shot dead two paramilitary rangers in Thailand’s restive deep south on Thursday, police said, the latest violence in the troubled region bordering Malaysia.

The attack came as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced plans to start a gradual lifting of a controversial emergency decree, in place across Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani provinces for six years.

The two rangers were gunned down in a rebel ambush while patrolling a road in Narathiwat, Police Colonel Suchart Acharajindawat said.

More than 4,300 people have been killed in nearly seven years of unrest as shadowy ethnic Malay Muslim rebels fight for autonomy from the predominantly Buddhist Thai state. The rubber-rich region was an independent sultanate before annexation a century ago.

More than 80 percent of the local population of almost 2 million people are Malay Muslims, who largely oppose the presence of tens of thousands of police, soldiers and state-armed paramilitary guards.

Abhisit said the number of attacks in the region, which has been plagued by bombings and drive-by shootings, was on the decline and the emergency decree could be lifted in the safer areas, starting with Mae Laen, a district of Pattani.

“We have assessed the situation in the area for some time and there has been no violence,” Abhisit told reporters, adding that the authorities would carry out similar assessments before lifting the law in other districts.

The law, which bans gatherings of more than five people and allows detention of suspects for 30 days without court approval, has been criticized by rights groups, which say it’s use adds to the long-standing grievances that are fuelling the conflict.

(Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing by Ambika Ahuja; Editing by Martin Petty)

Sigh, guess shit is REALLY hitting the fan now eh?

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