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ARKIB : 08/06/2004

Thailand rules out US role in restive Muslim south

BANGKOK June 7 - Thailand's government on Monday ruled out the prospect of United States troops being deployed to restore order in the troubled Muslim south, where separatist violence has raged this year.

``There is no reason for the US to deploy troops. It's usual for the US to comment on such things but we can manage the situation,'' said Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh who is responsible for security affairs.

The debate was triggered by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's visit to the region last week during which he said he hoped US forces would be hunting terrorists in Southeast Asia ``pretty soon''.

Chavalit rejected Rumsfeld's comment that Southeast Asia was vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

``It's a US notion but I don't see any conditions leading to that kind of incident,'' he said.

Defence Minister Chettha Thanajaro also said Thailand was capable of quelling the troubles in the three Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia, where nearly 200 people have been killed this year.

``It's our internal affair and I think that we will manage to solve this problem - it's not beyond our efforts,'' he said.

The troubles in the south continued Monday with the death of a 50-year-old Buddhist man who taught non-religious subjects in an Islamic school in Pattani province.

``He was shot three times while trying to start his car inside the school grounds,'' police said.

Pattani police commander Major General Paitoon Pattanasophon said the motive behind the killings - like many of the others carried out by two men riding a motorcycle - was not yet established.

Chettha said the military had gone on a heightened state of alert after a warning posted on a separatist website said there would be more violence in the south.

``The military has been put on full alert. We are not careless, but I think it's rather easy to put anything on a website,'' he said.

Thailand's south has endured decades of separatist violence, but after a period of relative peace, trouble flared at the start of this year with bombings and murders targeting officials, security forces and Buddhist monks.

The violence reached a peak on April 28, when 108 suspected Muslim rebels were killed when they launched raids on police posts and checkpoints.

Three Buddhist temples were bombed in mid-May, and an elderly Buddhist man was decapitated last month. - AFP

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