Thailand's Queen Sirikit has made a rare public appeal for all Thais to help end 10 months of violence in the south that has killed hundreds of people.

Thailand's respected Queen Sirikit told an audience of prominent Thai leaders that most of the attacks in southern Thailand have been against innocent people who cannot fight back.

In an emotional speech, the Queen says the government alone should not be left to solve the problem. Rather all Thais are duty-bound to help fellow citizens who are innocent and can no longer earn a living.

She made the comments in a rare audience before 900 political and civic leaders, which included Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Queen has just spent two months in the mostly Muslim southern provinces - which have been plagued by violence since January.

Hundreds of people have been killed, including state officials, security forces, teachers, religious leaders and laymen. As a result, many families in the impoverished region have been left without breadwinners.

Thai officials blame resurgent Islamic militants seeking to spark a general uprising in the south. Muslims make up only four percent of the population of mostly Buddhist Thailand, but 80 percent of the three southernmost provinces.

The Thai government has sought to ease long-standing local resentment by promoting jobs and development.

But it has taken a stern approach to dealing with the violence by declaring martial law in most of the region.

The latest surge of violence began after 85 Muslim men died when police broke up a demonstration last month in Narathiwat Province. Most suffocated to death after being arrested and packed for hours in military trucks.

Since then there have almost daily reprisal killings of Buddhist residents in the south.

The violence has created a climate of fear and suspicion between the Muslim and Buddhist communities, which had lived in relative harmony together.

Prime Minister Shinawatra - who has shrugged off severe criticism for his tough handling of the situation - has called on all 62 million Thais to make paper doves for a goodwill gesture: a symbolic airdrop of the birds over the south on the King's birthday, next month.