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Thailand's Southern Insurgency Under Spotlight After Attacks in Jakarta

The Thai government's extension of emergency decree powers in the southern Thailand has led rights groups and academics to call for more civilian control over the region. There is renewed attention on the six-year-old insurgency following the recent bombings in Indonesia.

Thailand's government says it hopes to end a Muslim insurgency in the southern provinces within three years by improving laws and helping local politicians to better respond to residents' needs.

The violence in Thailand's three southern provinces is getting new attention after last week's bombings of luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Since early 2004, the insurgency has claimed over 3,500 lives. Shootings and bombings happen almost daily.

The Cabinet has recently extended emergency decree powers governing the provinces, leaving the region largely under military control.

But Benjamin Zawacki, the Amnesty International Thailand representative, says the government needs to go beyond a military solution. He says it needs to focus on economic and educational development.

"I think this government is doing its best but to ignore the proper administration of justice in the south and allow impunity to continue over the next six months or for that matter a longer period of time, is not in the interests of the government," he said.

The government has invested in some development projects, and it has worked to improve its relationship with southern communities. But Pakorn Preeyakorn, secretary-general of the Islamic Center of Thailand, says despite those efforts, there has been no relief from the violence.

"Understanding between most of the people seems to be better than before because we can consider a number of those groups of villagers are coming up to work with the government more than before. But in another way the violence seems to be increasing in the past two to three months," he said.

Ethnically Malay Muslims in the south have long accused the Thai government of bias. Rights groups including Amnesty International also criticized over government's handling of investigations into incidents involving Muslims and the military.

No one group has been identified as responsible for the violence, and the insurgents have never made clear demands. Their targets have included teachers, civil servants, Muslims seen cooperating with the state, Buddhist monks and the military.

In turn, the military has been accused of human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings.

The majority of Thailand's population is Buddhist, but ethnic Malay Muslims dominate in the south.

Government officials have recently said policies on the south will be adjusted using input from Malaysia and Indonesia on addressing the concerns of the mostly Muslim population.