Thai premier flays foreign interference

Agence France Presse

Bangkok, May 1:

Thailand today defended its handling of violence in the Muslim south and rejected growing international calls for an investigation into the deaths of more than 100 militants.

“Some foreign countries have expressed their readiness to interfere and what I can say is that we have done everything to exercise maximum restraint,” Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said in his weekly radio address. “If we already explained and they do not understand, that is their problem. We are not begging for food from any countries and we did not start this problem,” he said, adding that no foreign figures had any role in the debate.

The defiant premier said the security forces’ overwhelming response to Muslim rebels’ attacks on police stations and checkpoints on Wednesday should be seen in the context of a recent wave of violence in the south.

Thaksin reiterated his belief that the militants were not separatists, despite confessions from those captured that they were part of a force seeking independence for the Muslim-majority south.

The Acting High Commissioner for UN Human Rights Commission Bertrand Ramcharan yesterday noted that “officials are required to refrain from using force exceeding that strictly required by the exigencies of the situation,” his spokesman said.

Thailand’s national human rights commissioner Wasant Panich reportedly said he had documented many accounts from witnesses that police had killed suspected militants who were incapable of fighting back. “There were many options open to the soldiers allowing them to use more a lenient approach with the assailants,” Wasant was quoted as saying in The Nation newspaper.

Thaksin’s comments also appeared to have been targeted at Malaysia’s announcement yesterday that it would accept any refugees fleeing the violence.

Thai foreign ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow rejected the offer.

In a sign of Malaysia’s alarm over the trouble on its border, its deputy premier Najib Razak reportedly said he would lead a mission on Tuesday to meet the Thai prime minister to discuss border security cooperation.

Australia today widened its travel warning to Thailand to include many popular tourist destinations, saying its citizens should “exercise particular vigilance” in Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga and other areas.

Australia, Britain, Denmark and New Zealand had already advised their citizens not to travel to the five Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia after the unprecedented violence.