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Thai Forces Capture 6 Suspected Raiders - 2004-02-10

Authorities in southern Thailand say they have apprehended a half dozen suspects in a recent upsurge in violence in the predominantly Muslim south. The announcement comes as Thailand's deputy prime minister visits the region to try to address local complaints of heavy-handed government tactics in the matter.

The commander of Thai Special Forces deployed in southern Thailand said his troops have captured six men believed to be involved in a raid on an Army base last month. Four soldiers were killed and at least 100 weapons taken. Twenty government schools were also torched around the same time.

Since then, nearly a dozen government officials, three Buddhist monks and several Muslim teachers have been killed. Other Muslim leaders are missing after being kidnapped by gangs dressed in black.

Martial law has been declared in three southern provinces - Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

Thai authorities at various times have blamed the violence on criminals, Islamic separatists or on political and personal disputes.

Lieutenant-General Pongsak Ekbannasingha told reporters he is not certain about the motives for the attacks. General Pongsak said the attackers could be bandits, or they could be people who want to scare the local population and disrupt daily life.

He declined to comment on whether any arms were seized. However, officers displayed items they said were seized along with the suspects. These included combat boots, a camouflage jacket and several shirts with slogans praising the identity of the region's ethnic Malays. Also shown was a booklet said to contain information on organizational activities.

The announcement came as the Muslim councils of the three provinces asked for a meeting with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to discuss what they say is heavy-handed investigations by security officials.

The three councils Sunday said they would no longer cooperate with security officials because of insensitive searches of Muslim schools. The declaration came after soldiers searched the school of the president of the Pattani Muslim Council without his permission.

Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh Tuesday held a town meeting with local leaders in Pattani as part of a fact-finding tour in the three provinces.

General Chavalit said the problems of the south are well known and he asked for local support in order to solve them.

He then listened to a series of complaints from local leaders, which he promised to report to the prime minister. Most of the Muslim council leaders boycotted the meeting.