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Thai Prime Minister Replaces Army Chief - 2004-08-24

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has replaced his cousin as army chief, amid continued violence in the Muslim-dominated southern provinces. The change will take effect October 1.

Army chief, General Chaiyasith Shinawatra, is being transferred to the mostly ceremonial post of supreme commander. General Pravit Wongsuwan, the current assistant commander-in-chief, will replace him.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters Tuesday in Bangkok that the change is needed because, as he put it, "the long-standing problem in the south needs fresh and proactive people to tackle it."

Southern Thailand has been wracked by almost daily violence this year, leaving more than 300 people dead. The government blames the unrest on a revived Muslim separatist rebellion.

Government Spokesman Jakrapob Penkair says a new approach is needed. "When you change the person at the top of any organization, it lends ample opportunities to that person to try new methods, or even retry an old method to achieve the goal," he says.

The prime minister had already replaced his defense and interior ministers in March because of their failure to stop the violence.

The violence has only intensified in the south after an April 28 attack on security posts by the insurgents. The military responded by killing more than one hundred of the attackers, including 32 who were hiding in a mosque.

It is the worst spate of violence the government has faced in the south in nearly two decades.

Most of those targeted have been police, government officials, teachers and Buddhist monks, many of whom have been gunned down in the streets in drive-by shootings.

While the vast majority of Thais are Buddhists, around seven percent are Muslim and the majority live in the southern provinces next to Muslim majority Malaysia.

The south is one of Thailand's poorest regions, infrastructure is shoddy or non-existent and jobs are scarce. Many of the people there have long complained of neglect by the central government.