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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Thaksin reassures S Thai traders
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visits a market in the Southern Thai province of Pattani Friday Aug. 19, 2005.
Mr Thaksin wants locals to continue trading, despite threats
Thailand's prime minister is visiting the nation's south, where an insurgency has killed hundreds of people since the beginning of last year.

Thaksin Shinawatra wants to reassure traders after suspected militants threatened to attack people working on Fridays, the Muslim holy day.

Mr Thaksin visited markets in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces.

He told the BBC he was confident his government now had the insurgency in the south well under control.

BBC correspondent Tony Cheng, who saw Mr Thaksin welcomed at a market in Narathiwat, says he looked at ease and that many young Muslims pushed forward to greet him and be photographed by him.

"Every day we're making arrests, and we now have the situation under control," he told the BBC.

But the only traders operating at this particular market on Friday had driven 12 hours from Bangkok, and the food they were selling from the back of their trucks was heavily subsidised by the interior ministry, our correspondent says.

At a market in Pattani, one vendor told the Associated Press that it was busier this Friday because local officials asked them to come to welcome Mr Thaksin.

"The market has been very quiet [previously]. Both sellers and buyers are afraid to come on Friday," said Haripa Ni-ngoh, a 51-year-old chicken vendor.

Shootings and bomb attacks have become a daily occurrence in the Thai south.

The government blames the violence on a mix of Muslim militants and criminal gangs.

Courage call

"Everybody has to be strong. Don't be weak," Mr Thaksin told a ceremony to open a new public playground in Pattani.

"This is the land we love and care about. We don't need to be afraid of anything. Every party concerned is coming in to look after you."

Anonymous hand-written notes threatening to chop the ears off or kill traders working on Fridays have appeared throughout the south in the last two weeks, according to the French news agency AFP.

The Mujahideen Islam Pattani (MIP), which has been involved in insurgent activity in the past, has reportedly responded with its own leaflets in Yala, saying it was not involved in the threats.

"The Mujahideen Islam Pattani wants to reiterate that we have never prohibited people from working on Thursdays and Fridays, even during the month of Ramadan," the MIP said in its leaflets.

In a sign of continuing tensions in the region, police had to defuse two fertilizer bombs in neighbouring Yala province, close to a market Mr Thaksin was due to visit.

"These bombs could easily have blown up a two-storey building," a bomb-squad officer at the scene told Reuters news agency.

There are concerns that the threats and violence are ruining local trade, with many scared to venture into orchards and rubber plantations to work following a series of beheadings.

Mr Thaksin's administration has battled the insurgency with a series of unusual measures, including dropping paper birds on the south, and this week, offering free cable TV in tea houses to act as a distraction.

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