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Gun Battle in Southern Thailand Kills 3 While Interim PM Visits

Police in Thailand say two rebels and a soldier have died in a gun battle in one of the country's insurgency-plagued southern provinces.

The fighting took place Wednesday in Yala province as Thailand's military-installed prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, arrived for his second visit in a week.

Police say the gun battle broke out when an army unit on patrol in Yala's Bannang Sata district encountered a group of rebels.

Mr. Surayud gave a speech to hundreds of Muslim students and teachers at a school in Yala's capital, Pattani. He appealed to them to help build peace and unity in the troubled region.

Muslim radicals have been fighting an insurgency in southern Thailand for almost three years. The fighting has killed about 1,600 people.

On Tuesday, Mr. Surayud said he would be willing to introduce Islamic Sharia law into three southern provinces as a way of helping to end the violence. He says Sharia law would be acceptable because Thai Muslims have a "completely" different way of life from others Thais.

The interim prime minister made the comments in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand in Bangkok. He said the only condition for starting negotiations with the militants is that there be no "separation" of the southern provinces from the rest of Thailand.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.