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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 February, 2005, 13:22 GMT
Bombs greet Thai PM's trip south
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
The prime minister's party won no seats in the south in elections
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has begun a visit to the country's troubled south soon after four bombs exploded and injured eight people.

Six people were hurt in one blast, near a bank in Narathiwat province. A university Mr Thaksin was due to visit was also hit and its rector injured.

Mr Thaksin is meeting both Muslim and Buddhist leaders in his three-day tour.

More than 500 people have been killed in the south in a wave of violence blamed on Muslim insurgents.

The visit came as Thailand's Cabinet approved a new 12,000-strong infantry division to combat violence in the south.

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

Mr Thaksin said villages where violence broke out faced financial penalties. Villages would be given colour codes - red for violent, yellow for semi-co-operative and green for peaceful.

"We don't give money to those red villages because we don't want them to spend the money on explosives, road spikes or assassins," he told villagers in Narathiwat.

Three soldiers and three civilians were injured by Wednesday's most powerful bomb, set off near a branch of the state-owned Krung Thai Bank where soldiers regularly patrol, local police said.

A second bomb, also in Narathiwat, exploded in a rubber plantation in the Ruso district but no-one was hurt.

A third exploded on the campus of Rajabhat University, in Yala province.

Mr Thaksin said the extra 12,000 soldiers to be based in the largely Muslim south would differ from regular troops.

They will focus on outreach programmes and development work, as well as ensuring peace and stability, he said.

The BBC's Kylie Morris in Bangkok says this is a distinction which is unlikely to be recognised in the southern provinces, where the governing party failed to win a single seat in the general election earlier this month.

She says the bombs are a reminder of the pressure Mr Thaksin is under to come up with a new strategy to quell the violence, which the government blames on Islamic separatists.

Many people in the region are angry that the military tactics employed so far have failed to work and accuse the authorities of heavy-handedness.

Islamic community leaders in the south have warned that a greater military presence on the streets of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala will be counter-productive for the government, and is unlikely to win it more friends.

But the defence minister said the purpose of the regiment was to protect innocent civilians.

In the past months, Buddhist monks, teachers, police and soldiers have been ambushed and murdered on an almost daily basis.


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