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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 13:26 GMT
Thai leader warned over violence
Thai security officers check the bag of a civilian in Ranga district, southern Narathiwat province, 24 February 2005.
The situation remains tense in the southern provinces
Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra's tough handling of violence in the country's south is likely to inflame tensions further, Human Rights Watch has said.

"The policies that the government seems to be pursuing almost seem aimed at attracting jihadis," said a spokesman for the campaign group, Brad Adams.

The group particularly criticised a recent plan to deny funds to villages thought to be supporting militants.

A Thai government spokesman has hinted that this plan might be reconsidered.

Jakrapob Penkair told reporters on Thursday that it was merely an idea, and not government policy.

More than 550 people have died in the Muslim-majority southern provinces in the last year, in series of violent incidents.

Over the last four days, at least eight people - both Buddhist and Muslim - are reported to have been shot dead in the region.

On Thursday, two policemen were killed by gunmen - one in Narathiwat and another in Pattani province.

Mr Thaksin, who won re-election in a landslide victory earlier this month, has favoured a tough response to the uprising.

But his scheme to restrict funding to villages which support the separatist militants has already been criticised by Muslim and human rights groups.

The plan, announced last week, would divide over 1,000 southern villages into red, yellow or green zones according to their level of alleged sympathy for the rebels.

Mr Adams told a news conference on Thursday that the policy "will inflame tensions rather than resolve them."

"If you want to attract jihadis to Thailand, by all means, pursue red, yellow and green zones and talk about denying development aid and blame the victims of suffocation deaths for being Muslim and fasting," he said.

But Mr Jakrapob said that the zones were "merely an idea, not government policy, and as of now it is not being implemented or prepared at all."

"So far there is no preparation for the zoning. This government wants to create unity among the people, so any move that will disunite the people won't be this government's policy," he said.

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