updated 11/25/2006 5:56:09 AM ET 2006-11-25T10:56:09

More than 300 schools in Thailand’s restive south will close indefinitely Monday after attacks by suspected Muslim insurgents left two teachers dead, a regional representative for teachers said.

The closure affects all primary and secondary schools in the province of Pattani, where two teachers have been shot and killed by suspected insurgents in the past two days.

In one of the killings, attackers shot a school principal Friday, and then set his body on fire. The principal became the 59th teacher or school official killed in three years of violence, said Bunsom Thongsriprai, president of Teachers’ Association in Pattani.

“Teachers can’t bear what has happened,” Bunsom said. “They are paranoid, worried and afraid.”

Bunsom said that Pattani’s 336 public schools, which serve about 100,000 students, would reopen when teachers feel safe.

More than 1,800 people have died from violence in Thailand’s three southernmost, Muslim-majority provinces — Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat — since an Islamic insurgency flared in January 2004. The majority of Thailand’s population is Buddhist.

Attacks increasingly targeting educational system
Teachers have been occasional targets, seen by insurgents as representatives of the government they oppose and easy targets. But recently, attacks have been aimed at teachers and schools on an almost daily basis.

On Thursday, 96 schools across Yala were ordered closed as a safety precaution after a school was burned down the day before in broad daylight. It was one of several schools in the province recently targeted by arsonists. The Yala schools were expected to reopen Monday.

Thailand’s new military-installed government has pledged to make peace in the south a priority, and to reverse the hardline policies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawtra, who was deposed by a coup Sept. 19.

Defense Minister Boonrawd Somtat said Friday that insurgents had stepped up violence to keep residents from accepting new peace overtures from the authorities.

“They have intensified violent attacks to intimidate and terrify people,” Boonrawd said, adding that the shadowy groups behind the violence have not accepted government offers to hold talks.

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