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Thaksin to Cut Access to Funds for Militants in Thailand's Muslim South 

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has threatened to cut off government funds to villages in southern Thailand if they continue support for Muslim militants. He made the statement before shortening to 24 hours, what was to be a three-day visit to the region in order to campaign for a candidate in a rerun of a district election. Human rights groups say the prime minister's increasingly tough stance to eradicate more than a year of violence is likely to backfire.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra used his three-day visit to the violence-wracked south to unveil new measures to combat Muslim separatism.

Speaking in the town of Betong, Mr. Thaksin Thursday vowed to cut assistance funds to local villages if they continued to support Muslim militancy. He says any of the 1200 villages prone to unrest or judged to be sympathetic will be label "red zones" and ineligible for money.

The government has set aside more than $500 million in development aid for villages nationwide, including the impoverished, mostly Muslim southern provinces - Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani.

Mr. Thaksin says his plans aims to make sure the money does not end up funding violence.

Human rights groups, academics and members of the local Islamic councils reacted with swift criticism for the prime minister's plan, saying it will only further alienate Thailand's Muslims.

"The Prime Minister Thaksin still uses the heavy hand to solve the problem," noted Somchai Homlaor, a member of the Thai Law Society, "even with its proof already, during the past one year, that heavy hand measures make the situation worse."

More than 600 people have been killed since January 2004 in violence blamed on Muslim separatists. Thai military forces have also been accused of human rights abuses with dozens of men killed or disappearing.