Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Exiled Thai Muslim welcomes coup

TALK HOPES Lukman Lima said the ousting of the prime minister, detested in southern Thailand for his crackdown on an insurgency, was the right thing for the country

AP , BANGKOK

An exiled Muslim rebel leader yesterday welcomed Thailand's military overthrow of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, saying the coup could help resolve a bloody Islamic insurgency in the country's south.

The takeover on Tuesday by General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, a Muslim who accused Thaksin's government of corruption, has been endorsed by the king and many Thais eager for an end to political turmoil.

But Western governments expressed dismay over the military-led coup, launched while the popularly elected Thaksin was abroad, and urged a speedy return to democracy.

Thaksin, who used an iron-fisted policy in trying to suppress the southern insurgency, was widely detested in southern Thailand and many moderate Muslims said that the bloody conflict could never be solved as long as he remained in power.

"It is the right thing that the military has taken power to replace the Thaksin Shinawatra government," said Lukman Lima, an exiled leader in one of several groups fighting the central government for a separate Muslim state.

"We hope that the political [situation] can be resolved under General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin as the new leader," Lukman said.

In an e-mailed response to questions, Lukman said that Sondhi was the "only one who knows the real problems" of the Muslim-dominated southern provinces.

Lukman, living in exile in Sweden, is vice president of the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO).

"We will continue to fight until full independence [is attained] in Pattani," he said, referring to the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

Sondhi, 59, had proposed several weeks ago opening talks with the separatists, but Thaksin's government vehemently opposed such a move.

"Thaksin's government has totally failed to quell the violence, so we are now pinning our hope on the Council of Administrative Reform," said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political scientist from Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani.

Thaksin arrived in London on Wednesday from New York where he had been attending the UN General Assembly. It was not known whether he would seek to stay in London, where he has a residence, or return to Thailand, where he could face prosecution for corruption.

Since taking over, coup leaders have detained Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit and Thaksin's top aide Prommin Lertsuridej for questioning, the Council of Administrative Reform confirmed in a statement late on Wednesday.

Two ministers who were close to the deposed leader -- Newin Chidchob and Yongyuth Tiyapairat -- were "invited" to report to the junta.

The Nation newspaper yesterday published a 100-name "watch list" of politicians, business people and others close to Thaksin who could be investigated by the new power brokers.

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