Four members of a Muslim family have been shot dead while panning for gold in a remote stream in Thailand's "Deep South", an area plagued by insurgency, guns and crime.
Around 7,000 people have been killed since 2004 in Thailand's southernmost Muslim-majority provinces, where shadowy insurgents are seeking greater autonomy from Bangkok.
The majority of the victims have been civilians -- including Muslim and Buddhist villagers, teachers and state officials -- caught up in tit-for-tat violence between the rebels and Thai security forces.
Police said the bodies of a Mayuso Bado, his two sons -- the youngest just 16 years old -- and his son-in-law, were found by relatives late Thursday after they failed to return from a gold panning mission in Sukhirin district of Narathiwat province.
They had been shot by "war weapons", Manus Sixsamat, commander of Narathiwat police told AFP, using a phrase that covers the assault rifles commonly used by militants and security services in the area.
"We don't yet know the exact motive, but they may have been shot by hardline militants... or by a rival group of gold panners," he said.
He ruled out the involvement of local Buddhists, saying they were too afraid to venture deep into the forest in the mountainous border zone.
The area is a transit point for drugs and other contraband to and from Malaysia and provides a hideout for shadowy rebels and crime gangs.
Gold panning is not a major business in southern Thailand but flecks of the precious metal appear during heavy rains in some remote streams, providing a small bonus for the area's rubber tappers and farmers.