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Thailand must change policy on Muslim south-probe

Written by: Staff
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BANGKOK, June 5 (Reuters) An independent body which has been investigating the bloody violence in Thailand's largely Muslim south for a year today said it could get worse unless the government changed its policy.

Former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, the head of the 48-member body National Reconciliation Commission set up in April last year, lambasted both sides for violence in which about 1,300 people have been killed since it erupted in early 2005.

But it called on the government, which has flooded the Muslim-majority far south with troops, to embark on serious reconciliation and set up a powerful agency to find solutions.

''The use of violence to solve problems is not only misguided, but it has aggravated the situation,'' he told a news conference before handing over a final fact-finding report to the government.

''The only way for Thai society to end this risky circle of violence is reconciliation,'' Anand said.

Part of the problem in the three Muslim-majority provinces near the Malaysian border was discontent at the abuse of power committed by police and other officials, he said.

''Economic hardship, poverty and injustice have spawned conditions conducive to an anti-government campaign waged in and outside the country. They are being cited as reasons for resorting to violence,'' he said.

''Many people are heard calling for separatism, but we are not sure whether it is really their goal, or may be it is just a bargaining tool for something else. Whatever is the case, it has been an issue being exploited,'' he said.

''We have found that religion has not been the cause of violence, although it is related in the sense that it is being used by some groups to justify violence.

''If this state of conditions does not improve, violence will erupt to the extent worse than spates of arson we saw in the second half of 2005,'' Anand said.

''Civilians are the victims and I believe the relations between the state and people would reach a worrying stage as Muslims would distrust the government as they are unsure whether the government is behind the violence.'' As a gesture, the government should set up a fund earmarked for compensating families of Muslim victims of government maltreatment, he said.

It should also recognise the Malay dialect spoken in the region, an independent sultanate until Bangkok annexed it a century ago, as an official language and set up an agency to find solutions.

''We are quite confident these proposals could help solve problems in the long run. But it depends on how the government would respond to our proposals and on whether it can change the way it is used to doing things,'' Anand said.

REUTERS KD PM1752

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