NARATHIWAT, Thailand, June 8 (Reuters) - Suspected Muslim militants shot dead two Buddhist grocery store owners in southern Thailand before setting off a bomb that wounded five police officials who arrived to investigate the shooting, police said on Wednesday.
The attacks took place in Narathiwat, one of three Muslim-dominated provinces bordering Malaysia that have been plagued by separatist unrest for the past seven years.
An ethnic Malay Muslim entered one store and shot the owner with a pistol before fleeing the scene, leaving behind a small explosive device, which was triggered when security personnel arrived to investigate, police said.
The second attack took place in front of another store when its 72-year-old owner was shot dead by suspected militants riding on a motorcycle.
More than 4,500 people have been killed and nearly 9,000 wounded in violence since 2004 in the rubber-rich region, which was an ethnic Malay Muslim sultanate a century ago before annexation by predominantly Buddhist Thailand.
Attacks have increased in recent months, with Muslim villagers, security forces, Buddhist monks and teachers among the victims of drive-by shootings and bombings blamed largely on separatist insurgents.
Despite a security force of more than 60,000 deployed in the region, the authorities have made little progress in tackling the unrest, which no credible group has claimed responsibility for. (Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing by Vithoon Amorn; Editing by Martin Petty and Sanjeev Miglani)