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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July, 2005, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Thai teachers to be allowed guns
A Thai security officer stands guard in front of a house following a shooting incident in which a teacher was injured, southern Narathiwat province, 28 June 2005.
Many teachers in the south want to be armed against militant attacks
School teachers in Thailand's troubled southern provinces will be allowed to carry guns, the government has said.

The move is one of a series of measures designed to keep education staff from leaving the violence-hit south.

Many of the region's teachers are thought to have either stopped working or demanded a transfer from the area.

More than 700 people, including at least 24 teachers, have been killed since January 2004 in unrest which the government blames on Islamic militants.

Teachers are often targeted as they are seen as symbols of Thailand's Buddhist authorities.

'Fearful and demoralised'

"We have granted special rights for teachers to carry guns," deputy education minister Rung Kaewdaeng told reporters on Tuesday, adding that 2,000 teachers had already requested arms.

TROUBLED SOUTH
Home to most of Thailand's 4% Muslim minority
Muslim rebels fought the government up to the mid-80s
Suspected militants have upped attacks since 2004, targeting Buddhists
Security forces' response criticised by rights groups

"They need guns. This is now a necessity as many people have survived attacks because they shot back at the attackers," Mr Rung is quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP.

They will be provided with cheap or second-hand firearms and flak jackets, he added.

In the most violent areas of southern Thailand, teachers are already escorted to school by security personnel.

Education Minister Adisai Bodharamik admitted that teachers there were "fearful and demoralised".

"If teachers want to move out from the region, we cannot stop them," Mr Adisai told reporters.

He said he had already directed education authorities to approve transfers for more than 2,700 teachers out of the area, to be replaced by volunteers.




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