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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
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Newspapers in Thailand have questioned the methods used by government forces in the Muslim south to quell attacks by alleged Islamic insurgents, which killed over 100 of them, many reportedly armed only with machetes.

There is a fear the violence could undermine what commentators consider to be a climate of religious tolerance in the country. However one commentator points out that southern Muslims have complained in the past about discrimination.

The belief is expressed in one newspaper that the government action can be seen as a partial victory in the war against terror, although the same editorial goes on to state fears over long-term instability.

This is about a fanatical ideology that none of us knew existed on such a grand scale
The Nation

"Brute violence is no lasting solution", says The Nation. "The government must refine its tactics for ending the bloodshed that grips the South."

Taken by surprise

"Yesterday was a sad day for Thailand, a country which prides itself on its religious tolerance and social harmony, as a small group of Islamic militants sullied the good name of Islam and the collective peace of mind of the Thai Muslim community by attempting to launch a campaign of terror."

The Nation criticises the security forces for responding "with such overwhelming violence".

"This is not about addiction or banditry; this is about a fanatical ideology that none of us knew existed on such a grand scale," it adds.

The Thai-language business daily Krungthep Thurakit says the violence was a culmination of several months of unrest in the region, and undermines the country's claim to be a democracy.

Many innocent young Muslim youths have lost their lives
Krungthep Thurakit

"The violence, which has reached a crisis point, does not reflect the fact that Thailand is under a democracy and the rule of law."

"Many innocent young Muslim youths, who authorities claimed were trouble makers, have lost their lives."

Krungthep Thurakit fears that the military siege of the Krue Se mosque, which "witnessed heart-breaking pictures of crying parents hold their sons' bodies" could herald "an explosion of violence in future".

The mass-circulation Thai Post also questions the need to have killed so many youths.

"The government said the attackers were teenagers who were lured and hired by adults to carry out the unrest. If this information is true, and as Thailand is a civilised country, should they have killed them?"

"If the government does not understand what has caused the problem in the south and intends nevertheless to use such strong measures, it may lead to more violence that cannot be quelled," Thai Post warns.

"Southern insurgents dealt a heavy blow," believes Bangkok Post."The high death toll among the insurgents, compared with the relatively low casualties on the government side, is a disaster for the insurgents."

'Major victory'

"The government at last can claim a major victory in the war on terror after the almost daily killing of state officials which began with the 4 January raid by insurgents on an army camp in Narathiwat province."

Representatives of the state must explain that the government has no intention to persecute the Muslim people
Bangkok Post

Bangkok Post suggests the government action "should mark a huge setback for the insurgents and could result in a scaling back of the violence, even if only temporarily while the insurgents regroup".

"On the dark side, the scale of yesterday's attacks testify to the very real security threat posed by the insurgents. The yells of some of the obviously determined assailants and the evidence found of Muslim teachings on the dead confirm security officers' worst fears that the danger facing the South is linked to Islamic extremism."

The Post calls for martial law to be imposed in high risk areas while pointing out that "distrust of state authorities or anything associated with the central government is widespread among many Muslim people in the South, a result of the persecution and unfair treatment they feel they have been subjected to over the years".

"Representatives of the state must explain to Muslim religious and community leaders the need to restore peace and order quickly to the South, and that those who were killed yesterday should not be thought of as Muslims but as insurgents."

"They also should explain that the government has no intention to persecute the Muslim people," Bangkok Post concludes.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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