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Violence Continues in Southern Thailand Despite Peace Efforts


Thai officials say two soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb exploded Sunday outside a village in the restive southern province of Yala. Violence in the largely Muslim region shows no sign of letting up despite the new government's efforts to promote reconciliation there.

Two soldiers died and three of their comrades were wounded after four other people were shot to death and six wounded hours earlier in a spate of drive-by shootings and simultaneous bomb attacks in Yala and two neighboring provinces.

The soldiers died as their truck left the village of Bajor just after their commander acceded to demands by residents to withdraw from a temporary base they had set up in a local school.

Thai authorities say that between 30 and 40 soldiers and police assigned to a unit patrolling the border with Malaysia confronted a crowd of 300 villagers, mostly women and young girls, who protested against their presence.

The villagers accused members of the unit of killing a villager last Friday. Police say the man was a local leader of the fighting in Thailand's deep south that has led to the death of more than 1,700 people over the past three years.

After five hours of negotiations with the protesters, police Major General Surapong Khemsingkhi of the border patrol agreed to withdraw from Bajor. He says he decided to pull his men out of the village in order to avoid any confrontation or misunderstanding with the villagers. The casualties among the soldiers occurred soon after.

The interim government of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont has made peace in Thailand's far southern provinces a major priority. Last week, Mr. Surayud traveled to the region and apologized to its mostly ethnic Malay Muslim inhabitants for the hard-line approach of his predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a September military coup. Mr. Surayud has also offered to talk to the insurgents.

But many analysts say the apology is not enough. Those behind the violence have not responded to government overtures. And the level of violence has not diminished.

Many Malay-speaking Thais have complained about being mistreated and marginalized by the central government. Some experts want the authorities to rein in the police and reform the courts to counter widespread mistrust of the state in southern Thailand. Some even suggest that the government consider addressing the sensitive issue of self-rule by the local populace.

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