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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 14:12 GMT
Muslim group 'behind Thai raids'
Thai policemen check a car in Narathiwat province
Southern Thailand is under martial law following a wave of attacks
Thai officials have named a Muslim militant group they believe carried out a wave of attacks on southern Thailand which killed six soldiers and police.

A government security adviser said the group, the Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani, had links to al-Qaeda and the regional network Jemaah Islamiah.

General Kitti Rattanachaya's comments were at odds with previous claims the attacks were linked to banditry.

Up to 30 people have been reported to have been arrested over the violence.

Thailand's army has offered a 1m baht ($25,000) reward for information on those involved.

General Rattanachaya, a former army commander in the south and now a government security adviser, said militants in South East Asia fought together in mujahideen against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and then returned home to set up local groups.

SOUTHERN THAILAND
Home to most of Thailand's 4% Muslim minority
Muslim rebels fought the government up to the mid-80s
Government downplays any separatist threat, calling them bandits

"Indonesians formed the Jemaah Islamiah, Malaysia formed the KMM (Kampulan Mujahideen Malaysia). In Thailand they quietly formed the Mujahideen Pattani," he said in media interviews.

He said that the professional nature of the attacks - which included co-ordinated arson on several schools and an arms depot raid at the weekend - indicated the gunmen had outside help, "possibly from the Kampulan Mujahideen Malaysia".

"At present, international terrorists are linked together like a network, with al-Qaeda at the core," Mr Kitti said.

Pallop Pinmanee, deputy chief of the Internal Security Operations Command, said that one of the group's leaders, Jehbemae Buteh, was being hunted and was believed to be hiding in Malaysia.

The violence has taken place near the border with Malaysia.

Thaksin reticent

Thailand's government has so far resisted the suggestion that Islamic separatist groups long active in the south are organising the violence for political ends.

Mr Thaksin has admitted he thinks one such group was involved, but has said their overwhelming motivation was most likely criminal rather than political.

Mr Kitti said the government had been in denial about the group for too long.

"The government has to accept the existence of separatist groups and to be able to tackle the right problem," he said.

Later on Thursday, Mr Thaksin was reported by the French news agency AFP to have barred all officials except four senior ministers from speaking to the media about the violence.

"If officials talk to the press they might give their own personal concerns and this may not be good for tourism confidence if these (views) frequently appear in the headlines," he said.


SEE ALSO:
Thailand's separatist fears
06 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Blasts hit southern Thailand
05 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Armed raids in southern Thailand
04 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Thailand
17 Dec 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Thailand
01 Nov 03  |  Country profiles


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