BANGKOK: In a surprise turnaround, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ordered yesterday the partial withdrawal of troops from Thailand's southern provinces, where separatist violence has claimed more than 780 lives since January last year.
The announcement came after lawmakers bombarded Thaksin with criticism over his government's hardline response to continuing attacks by insurgents in the largely Muslim provinces during a rare joint session of Parliament.
I ordered the minister concerned to make adjustments to the troop deployment the soldiers with heavy arms that are present in the area have to pull out, he said, without specifying the size of the troop reduction.
The terrorists use hit-and-run tactics, so the heavy weapons are useless.
Some 35,000 troops had been deployed in the region. Thaksin said the defence ministry had been ordered to carry out the withdrawal, and that he was considering a demand by lawmakers to lift the martial law that has been imposed in the southern provinces since last year.
Thaksin, known for his angry outbursts and sensitivity to criticism, has appeared unusually conciliatory during the two-day debate, agreeing that the government must show greater respect for legal procedures and Muslim culture in the south.
He even offered praise for the leader of the main opposition Democrat party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, for his constructive advice during the debate on the second day of the meeting yesterday.
Muslim elders and opposition party members have lambasted Thaksin for disrespecting human rights and taking a confrontational stance against the alleged separatists, particularly the heavy-handed work of security forces conducting raids in search of ringleaders.
During the debate, many of the 500 members of the lower house and 200 senators who have taken the floor have accused Thaksin's government of using poor judgment in handling the violence, thought to be the handiwork of a revived separatist movement.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet approved compensation for families of 85 Muslims who died when authorities cracked down on a protest in the southern district of Tak Bai last year. AP
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