Sun, Jan 11, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Thai prime minister to help Muslim provinces

REUTERS , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra promised yesterday to deliver a new wave of development help for the largely Muslim south following an eruption of violence that has rocked his government.

"These three provinces in the next five years will be very different," he said of a region placed under martial law after gunmen stormed an army camp and more than 20 state schools were torched last Sunday.

"I will do everything in my power to develop them," he said in his weekly radio address, again attributing the violence in a region with a reputation for lawlessness to criminals, not the Islamic separatists some top aides say are responsible.

Thaksin has dismissed statements by top aides that Islamists possibly connected to Jemaah Islamiah, the Southeast Asian network responsible for the nightclub bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002, were behind the attacks.

Nevertheless, the imposition of martial law in the three provinces near the Malaysian border, an intense manhunt by heavily armed soldiers and police and a round-up of suspects, including Islamic teachers, has not quelled the violence.

Police in the southern town of Thakbai said they had defused a time bomb in one of their stations.

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