By Nopporn Wong-Anan

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BANGKOK, Nov 12 (Reuters) The insurgency in Thailand's Muslim south will go on despite the post-coup government replacing the iron fist of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra with an olive branch, analysts said.

But the u-turn, featuring a humble apology for past brutality, the promise of a place for Islamic Sharia law in the Malay-speaking region and the revival of a once-trusted administrative body could undermine support for the violence, they said.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont's visit the south to deliver the apology for Thaksin's hardline approach to an insurgency, in which more than 1,800 people have been killed in less than three years, had reverberated, they said.

''The government's demonstration of its sincerity to resolve the problem has won many hearts and minds,'' said security analyst Panitan Wattanayagorn, of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference, which had slammed Thaksin for his brute-force policies, commended the apology and offered help to bring peace to the violence-racked far south, an Islamic sultanate until annexed by Bangkok a century ago.

However, the insurgents, whose organisation remains largely a mystery and who never claim responsibility for attacks or state their aims out loud, reacted with an intensified wave of violence.

The attacks included bombs that went off almost simultaneously at eight car and motorcycle showrooms in the city of Yala a day after Surayud visited.

A series of assaults on Buddhist and Muslim targets deemed linked to Bangkok sent more than 200 Buddhist villagers fleeing to Yala for safety.

''The insurgents are saying through the attacks that they don't want a ceasefire and they don't want their supporters to turn to the government,'' Panitan said.

HOPES UP Surayud has acknowledged that it will take time to see any results from his peace offensive in a region where 80 percent of its people speak a Malay dialect and many are resentful of abusive or culturally ignorant Buddhist officials.

Violence would not disappear immediately like ''switching off'' an electric light, but his apology had paved the way for the government and Muslims to tackle the problem together, Surayud said.

''I have asked for two months to work, after that you can evaluate how well this government has performed. So no criticism for now,'' he said.

Much of the hope centres on the revival of a multi-agency body abolished by Thaksin, ousted in a September 19 coup, despite its success in keeping the peace in a region subject to periodic rebellions against predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

Political scientist Srisompob Jitpiromsri said if the body, which used to be staffed by officials who understood the south, returned to its former standing, it could deter sympathy for the insurgency.

''Suspicion of state officials is the key issue here,'' said Srisompob, who teaches at the University of Songkhla in Pattani in the south and has recorded the casualties of the latest rebellion since it began January 2004.

''Anything the government can do to minimise this suspicion will help solve the immediate problem of violence.'' REUTERS SP HT1230

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