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Thai PM Pulls Out of APEC Amid Spiraling Violence in Southern Thailand


Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will not attend this month's Asia-Pacific economic leaders summit in Chile, citing flaring violence in mostly Muslim southern Thailand.

Thai officials Sunday said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will not attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Chile this month because of his concern that Muslim insurgents may intensify violence in the southern provinces.

There have been almost daily deadly attacks against Buddhists in Thailand's mostly Muslim southern provinces after a deadly government crackdown on Muslim protesters October 25 in Narathiwat Province.

The crackdown killed 85 Muslims, 78 of whom suffocated or were crushed to death while being detained by security forces.

Muslim separatists immediately threatened revenge attacks throughout Thailand.

The latest came on Sunday, when at least two more Buddhist civilians were killed by unknown gunmen, including a shopkeeper in Narathuwat Province.

Government spokesman, Jakrapob Penkair, says the situation in the south is one of several domestic issues that led to Mr. Thaksin to cancel his attendance at the APEC summit.

"The government now realizes the magnitude of the problems [in the south]. The details of the problems and decisive actions are being planned carefully and it is in the process of separating people from the insurgents and militants," he said.

The government has blamed a long dormant separatist movement for attacks in the south, which have left more than 450 dead since January. Martial law has done little to quell the problem.

Mr. Thaksin this month announced a crackdown on illegal assault rifles in the south as part of his get-tough policy. The prime minister has come under harsh criticism both at home and abroad for heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the southern violence.

Even Thailand's revered King Bhumipol Adulyadej has called on the government to take a more lenient approach to the situation.

While the Thai government has promised millions of dollars in aid to the impoverished region, local Muslim leaders, who have long complained of discrimination by the central government, have pleaded for more social justice in dealing with the region's problems.

Thailand, which hosted last year's APEC summit, will send Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiuyudh in Mr. Thaksin's place. However, the prime minister still is planning to attend the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which starts a week after APEC, in Laos at the end of the month.

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