Two killed as Thaksin tours troubled south

Yala, August 13:

Two men were shot dead in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south today, as the prime minister made a surprise visit to the volatile region following a new call for peace by the nation’s queen. The two men — both former militants who had defected to become government informants — were killed as they sipped their morning tea at a teashop just hours before Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra arrived in the region, police said. Thaksin’s tour brought him through Pattani and Yala provinces, where he visited a Buddhist temple and met local religious and business leaders. He dined with Muslim and business leaders in Yala town under heavy security, before heading to Narathiwat province where he planned to spend the night. Armed military and police forces were deployed along Thaksin’s route, but his agenda for the weekend was kept secret. Before leaving Bangkok, Thaksin urged residents in the provinces along the Malaysian border to remain resolute and not bend to demands of militants, who for two weeks have distributed anonymous leaflets threatening death to Muslims who work on Thursdays and Fridays. Friday is the Muslim holy day.

“My fellow countrymen in those three southern provinces must show their strength, show that they want to live better lives and that they do not want to live under the demands of others,” he said in his radio address early today. The visit came two days after respected Thai Queen Sirikit made an impassioned plea to end violence, in a message to the nation marking her 73rd birthday. Thaksin called on the country to respond to the queen’s plea for peace, which she has repeated three times in rare national addresses since the violence erupted in January 2004.