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Thai PM Calls for Tough Action After Murder of 2 Marines


The Thai government is investigating the murder of two Thai marines in southern Thailand who had been taken hostage. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra vows to take action against the killers as anger rises within the military over the deaths.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra called for tough action Thursday a day after the two marines were beaten to death while they were held hostage by local villagers in southern Thailand.

The two marines, wearing plain clothes, allegedly had been chasing gunmen who had shot and killed two men and wounded four others Tuesday evening.

The Thai military said local residents, believing the men were responsible for the attack, had forced them from their vehicle and held them at a mosque.

While negotiators were attempting to gain the men's release, witnesses said a small group of unidentified assailants took them and beat and stabbed them to death.

Mr. Thaksin, speaking at a press conference Thursday, said security forces would not retaliate over the deaths. But he warned the government would continue its hard-line approach in dealing with the Islamic insurgency in the south.

"I can assure you there's not going to be retaliation, definitely, but there will be law enforcement," he said. "We have to do both sides, iron fist and velvet glove, we have to do development, education, job creation, and also at the same time we have to enforce the law."

Mr. Thaksin blamed the deaths on those calling for the government to adopt a less aggressive policy toward security in the southern provinces.

More than 1,000 people have died in attacks since Islamic militants began an insurgency in the south in January last year. The three southern provinces are home to most of Thailand's Muslim population.

The military has blamed religious teachers and students at local Islamic schools for much of the violence. However, dozens of the victims were killed by security forces.

Many Thai Muslims say they are discriminated against by the country's Buddhist majority, and the southern provinces are among the least-developed parts of the country.

Gothum Areeya, a human rights activist and director of Mahadol University's Research Center for Peace Building, calls on villagers to accept responsibility for the tragedy but also urges the government to exercise caution.

"I appeal to the government to calm down somehow the very high emotional feeling that is understandable in a way," he said. "But that there would not be indiscriminate revenge but efforts should be made to localize the criminals and to punish them."

The government has imposed tight emergency rules in the region. And on Thursday, a government spokesman said that as part of tighter security efforts, the government no longer will allow its citizens in the south to also hold Malaysian citizenship.