BANGKOK, Thailand -- After a dozen horrific beheadings in the Muslim-majority south, leaflets have appeared reportedly threatening to chop off the ears of any Muslim who works on weekends.

Islamist separatists are fighting to restore the south's long-lost independence from Buddhist-majority Thailand. More than 800 people have died since January 2004 amid bombings, assassinations, arson and other assaults.

In rebel-torn Yala province, along the border with Malaysia, intelligence officials were investigating leaflets "urging local residents to stop working on Saturdays and Sundays, or they would have their ears cut off," the Bangkok Post reported on Friday (Aug. 12).

Muslim fundamentalists in the south earlier demanded no one work on Fridays -- Islam's traditional weekly holy day.

For example, southern Honda motorcycle dealer Vithoon Khupanthawee said an anonymous person telephoned him and asked that he stop working on Fridays and close his showrooms.

Worried, he complied.

Confusion over the leaflets' forbidden days prompted intelligence officials to speculate whether Islamists were behind the threats or perhaps a mysterious "third party" seeking to inflame hostilities.

Narathiwat province officials warned the public to ignore any death threats from suspected Islamist separatists who may be the same group which demanded Muslims' shops and businesses close on Fridays.

Islamist guerrillas in the southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala have focused many of their successful attacks against rubber plantations, army and police posts, and government-run schools.

As a result, they have crippled the south's economy, killed troops and stolen their weapons. They are trying to replace the south's public education with private religious schools which stress memorization of the Koran.

Since June, they have beheaded a dozen victims in the south -- mostly Buddhists -- in a stark new strategy "copied from the violence in Iraq," according to Thailand's Interior Minister Chidchai Vanasathidya.

They have also proved adept at constructing, hiding and detonating improvised explosive devices, including one which blew up under a bench at a bus stop in Narathiwat province, injuring five soldiers on Thursday (Aug. 11).

Investigators believed the bomb may have been ignited by a cell phone.

Killings and injuries in the south now occur on virtually a daily basis.

Thailand, a "non-NATO ally" of the United States, has repeatedly expressed frustration at not being able to quell the separatist struggle.

Queen Sirikit broadcast an emotional plea on her 73rd birthday Thursday (Aug. 11) saying "our hearts bleed for our fellow countrymen" in the south where "intolerable cruelties" continue unabated.

"Even Buddhist monks have been killed. I don't want people to sit still. Even I, myself, have to come out and speak out," the queen told the nation.

Bangkok clamped a state of emergency on the south in July and empowered itself with an executive decree which includes Article 17 -- giving impunity to security forces so they cannot be prosecuted for abuses committed while deployed.

"There is impunity for any policeman or soldier whose behavior is against human rights," Catherine Chanet, head of the United Nations Human Rights Committee told reporters in July.

"It is a provision of the law, and we said it was absolutely not in conformity" with human rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.