YALA, June 20 (Reuters) - Suspected Muslim militants killed a policeman and two local officials in Thailand's restive south on Monday, a day before Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was due to campaign in the region for the July 3 election, police said.
A Buddhist policeman and a Muslim defence volunteer were shot dead by snipers in two separate incidents in Pattani, and a Buddhist village chief was killed in neighbouring Yala province. All the victims died while riding on motorcycles.
There has been a spike in the number and scale of attacks in recent weeks in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces, with Muslim villagers, soldiers and police among the victims of roadside blasts and ambushes.
Ethnic Malay Muslims make up the majority of the population in these southernmost provinces of predominantly Buddhist Thailand. About 4,600 people have been killed and nearly 9,000 wounded in violence since 2004.
The government and military have sought to tackle the unrest with development projects and public relations campaigns to try to undermine support for the shadowy separatist rebels but the measures have made little progress and deep distrust exists between the army and local people.
The south is a strong support base for Abhisit's Democrat Party. The party is trailing by widening margins in opinion polls behind the opposition Puea Thai Party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
(Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing Vithoon Amorn; Editing by Alan Raybould)