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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March, 2005, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Thai PM indicates switch on south
Thai security officials inspect the site of a bomb blast at a park pavilion in violence-torn Yala province, in southern Thailand, 20 March 2005.
The south has been wracked by violence for more than a year
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has indicated that he might be prepared to follow a softer line in tackling the restive south.

Mr Thaksin, addressing a parliamentary session which is debating the southern violence, said he would provide more education and development in the area.

He said he had had time to reconsider his approach to the bloodshed during a recent family holiday.

He was responding to criticism that Bangkok had alienated the south.

"I had a lot of free time to contemplate what was right or what was wrong in what I've done," said Mr Thaksin.

"Violence cannot be solved with violence."

He said soldiers deployed to the south to try and restore order would get involved in more development work, "so they won't be spotted carrying guns all over the place".

Speaking at Thailand's first parliamentary joint session for more than a decade, opposition Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said: "The government has to send out a clear signal that it is changing its policy in tackling violence in the south, since society is still confused about what has been going [on]."

Fackrudin Boto, a senator for the southern province of Narathiwat , said Bangkok's efforts to suppress the insurgency had alienated imams.

"The government's policy has forced religious teachers to flee into the jungle," he said. "[Muslim] students are asked if they come to study in order to separate [from Thailand]."

Endemic violence

More than 600 people have died in the Muslim-majority southern provinces since January 2004.

Mr Thaksin's party was re-elected in February without winning a single seat in the three provinces most affected by the trouble - a measure, say critics, of the unpopularity of his approach.

About 20,000 soldiers have been deployed in the area since the start of the year.

But analysts say Mr Thaksin now appears to be reaching out to his opponents.

He recently appointed a former prime minister to chair a special reconciliation commission for the south.

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