updated 3/14/2007 12:35:27 AM ET 2007-03-14T04:35:27

Suspected Muslim insurgents threw a bomb at a commuter van in southern Thailand on Wednesday and then opened fire on its eight passengers, killing them all, police said.

The attackers hurled a bomb at the van as it slowed into a curve in the road and shot the driver, who managed to survive, said police Lt. Kitti Mankhong. The attackers then opened the side door of the van and shot each of the passengers with assault rifles.

The attack occurred as the van was shuttling people from the Betong district of Yala province to Hat Yai, the south’s major city, in the neighboring province of Songkhla.

Police and soldiers were searching for the attackers.

Authorities had stepped up security in the region for the Tuesday anniversary of the founding of the National Revolution Front (BRN) separatist group. Police had warned that insurgents might try to mark the anniversary with violence.

The BRN was formed in 1963, partly in opposition to the Thai government’s policy of the time to force southern Muslims to assimilate into predominantly Buddhist Thai society. The government later changed the policy.

Military officials believed that BRN-Coordinate, a BRN offshoot, has played a vital role in the current violence, which has left about 2,000 people dead since flaring up in January 2004.

Drive-by shootings and bombings occur almost daily in Thailand’s three Muslim-majority provinces — Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.

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