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Thai PM: No Clear Evidence Of Who Killed 12 Police Officers - 2002-07-11

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has denied reports that Muslim militants are responsible for a spate of killings of police offices in southern Thailand. There is no clear evidence on who is responsible for the murders of 12 officers.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Thursday blamed disgruntled government officials for the recent killings. He said the officials are angry because they lost job benefits under regional border security reforms. More than a dozen people, mostly policemen, have been killed in recent months in a round of gangland-style murders in the southern provinces. In the latest attacks, two officers were killed this week after a group of armed men attacked a police outpost. The south was the center of a Muslim insurgency in the 1970s and 1980s. But negotiations, amnesties and pressure from Malaysia led the rebel groups to disband.

During the separatist campaign, a task force of civilian, police and military officials had powers to fight the rebels. Now, however, border security is entirely overseen by police, and members of the old task force, have lost positions or job benefits.

Despite the prime minister's statement Thursday, senior Thai military officers accuse a coalition of Muslim separatists of being behind the attacks. Retired Fourth Army commander, General Kitti Ratanachaya, who oversaw the southern region for three decades, blames the Mujahadeen Pattani Organization or PULO. "They have some group of people, with some staff in Malaya, in the Middle East or in some country in Europe. The leader, or some group of leaders, is not in the country," he said.

General Kitti, who helped negotiate peace between the Muslim separatists and Thai army, says the government needs to admit the attackers are not regular bandits, but terrorists.

But a political scientist at Thailand's Songkhla University, Perayot Rahimmula, doubts the attackers are linked to international terrorist organizations. "This is a very old story and a very old picture in the past. But now I think this picture has already changed," he said.

He said Thai Muslims favor greater Muslim rights in the south, but they peacefully channel their political grievances through their representatives in parliament.

Most of Thailand's Muslim population lives in the south. About four percent of Thailand's 62 million people are Muslim, and most of the population is Buddhist.