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Thai King calls for "Softer Approach" in Dealing with Southern Violence 


Thailand's revered monarch has called for the government to adopt a softer approach in dealing with violence in the country's Muslim-dominated south.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters that King Bhumipol Adulyadej told him the government should soften its methods in the southern provinces.

Mr. Thaksin said King Bhumipol was "very concerned" about the situation and urged all security forces and state officials to avoid harming people.

A series of shootings and bombings in the south has left almost 500 people dead since the start of the year. The government blames Muslim separatists for the violence.

The region is home to most of Thailand's Muslim minority population. The bulk of the country's population is Buddhist.

Mr. Thaksin says the king asked the government to find new ways to deal with the problems, allowing local communities more participation in solving the issues.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Security and International Studies, says the king's comments are likely to cause the government to change its policy on the south.

"I think the overall strategy may begin to shift to a more compromising, to more political-led security policy instead of military-led or security first - it will be a shift to a political-first policy in the south," he said.

King Bhumipol has for many years played a major role in promoting development in the southern provinces, which are among the poorest in Thailand. His wife, Queen Sirikit, returned Sunday from a two-month stay in the south, extending her visit because of her own concerns with the area's problems.

Analysts say the king's appeal is likely to block a military crackdown in the south that had been planned to begin once the queen left the region.

The king's comments followed the deaths last week of more than 80 Muslims after a protest in Narithiwat province.

Most of the victims were crushed or suffocated when more than one-thousand men were arrested and then pressed into military vehicles.

The incident triggered widespread international anger, especially from neighboring countries with large Muslim populations.

Although the prime minister has apologized for the deaths, the violence continues. One man was shot dead and three were wounded in separate attacks in Narathiwat. Thai police said leaflets left at the scene warned of more killings in revenge for last week's killings.

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