Thaksin admits errors made over southern violence

BANGKOK: Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday there had been errors in the handling of months of violence in the Muslim south, and Islamic leaders said his get-tough policy had only exacerbated the problem. 

Admitting policy failures, the government would next week form panels of villagers and officials across its three southernmost provinces to work on security and development issues to try to rebuild trust and co-operation, Thaksin said. 

The policy turnaround came less than a month after Thaksin ordered security forces to go on the offensive to stop daily killings and bombings in the region where more than 200 people have been killed, many by gunmen on motorcycles, since January. 

“There has been suspicion everywhere,” Thaksin told reporters after meeting 100 southern Muslim imams in Bangkok. 

“The general public is feeling the government is not trying to solve the problem. They feel the government is not sincere in tackling the problem.” 

Despite sending thousands of troops to bolster security and promising millions of dollars in development aid, the government has failed to stop the unrest in the Malay-speaking region, which borders Malaysia. 

In an incident now typical of the region, police said a Muslim policeman was shot dead by a gunman on a motorcycle in Pattani province after Friday prayers, although police stopped short of speculating on a motive. 

The government has alternately blamed bandits, crime-gang bosses, Muslim militants, and anti-Western sentiment in the Islamic world for the daily explosions and shootings in the region, home to a fifth of Thailand's 7.5 million Muslims. 

But Muslim religious leaders told Thaksin the presence of soldiers and police in their villages had raised fears they were being made scapegoats for the violence. 

“Villagers are living in fear now as their villages are flooded with police and soldiers,” said Yala provincial Ismalic committeee chief Abdullahmee Cheseh. – Reuters  

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