NARATHIWAT: Five police officers racing to the scene of an ambush in southern Thailand were killed Friday when their car crashed after hitting spikes laid by suspected insurgents, authorities said.
The incident in Narathiwat province came as officers responded to a call for back-up from colleagues attacked nearby by some 20 militants, police said in a statement.
"Their car hit spikes dropped by militants," Army Colonel Theerapan Paeruang told AFP.
A civilian was also killed by stray bullets in the gun battle between rebels and police at the ambush site, the statement added.
A shadowy conflict waged by Muslim militants in Thailand's southern region has left more than 5,700 people dead since 2004.
Insurgents frequently lay spikes in the road to slow or stop security forces reaching remote areas where they have planned ambushes or bomb attacks.
Experts say rebels have become increasingly well co-ordinated in their attacks.
In Friday's violence officers investigating a bomb blast came under heavy fire from rebels hiding in dense forest.
The gunbattle lasted for an hour with at least three police injured, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
"The militants were on higher ground on a hill and opened fire at forensic police who were investigating the bomb blast," he said.
"The most seriously injured was shot in the chin."
The violence comes despite several rounds of peace talks between the government and the rebels, who are seeking some form of autonomy for the region, which was annexed by Buddhist-dominated Thailand a century ago.
The next round of talks is expected to take place next month, despite a recent surge in deadly militant attacks on Thai security forces.
Since peace talks began in March, conflict analysts say rebels have focused their attacks on security forces, with fewer 'soft' civilian casualties. (AFP)