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Thai PM Promises Jobs for Locals in Troubled South - 2004-05-07


Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has promised jobs and security to local Muslim communities in violence-plagued southern Thailand. Mr. Thaksin also removed the police chief, after last week's militant attack on security posts left more than a hundred people dead.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, on a three-day tour of the southern Muslim provinces, says economic progress and jobs are vital to restoring stability to the region.

The area has been wracked by violence since January. Militants have been attacking mostly government targets in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Mr. Thaksin says poverty is a root cause of the problem. Mr. Thaksin says the government is making local job creation an urgent priority. He says, once the security situation improves, the private sector is expected to follow with investment.

The president of the tourism association in the southern province of Pattani, Anusart Suwanmongkol, says the community is looking to the government's economic stimulus package to improve economic conditions.

?The priority now is to end poverty and make sure that people, when they finish their schooling, they will have jobs. So, I think it's very good that the economic stimulus package will take place, and the government sees this as a priority,? Mr. Anusart said.

Mr. Thaksin's visit to the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, is aimed at improving the central government's image, which has been tarnished by its failure to halt attacks by militants. It is also accused of heavy-handedness in suppressing violence.

To that end, Mr. Thaksin has replaced the southern region's top police commander, Lieutenant General Prung Boonpadung.

The move comes after security forces killed more than 100 militants, after coordinated pre-dawn attacks on police and army posts last week. Five government officers were also killed.

Human rights groups have claimed authorities used excessive force in repelling one of those attacks, when troops stormed a mosque, killing more than 30 militants occupying the building.

Despite almost 4,000 troops being sent to the region, security remains vulnerable. On Friday, two more people were killed.

The identity of those behind the attacks is still unclear. The Thai army has accused Islamic separatist militants, but the government has blamed criminals and local gangsters for luring young men to carry out attacks. Analysts suggest there appear to be ties between Islamic separatists, the attackers, criminals and local politicians.

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