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Thailand extends emergency rule in violent south

BANGKOK, Oct 13 (AFP) - The Thai government Tuesday extended emergency rule over the country's insurgency-plagued southern region by three months.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the decree would stay in force in the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and parts of Songkhla, where more than 3,900 people have been killed since a rebellion erupted in January 2004.

The rule, which must be renewed every three months, gives security forces sweeping powers of search and seizure and broad immunity from prosecution.

"Emergency rule is still needed in the south but its enforcement will be more transparent," Abhisit told reporters. He said the government would set up a committee to investigate accusations of abuses of power by authorities.

Rights groups have criticised the decree and say it creates a climate of impunity in the region, where 60,000 troops are stationed to stop an uprising led by shadowy Islamic rebels who have never publicly stated their goals.

Abhisit said the cabinet approved plans to replace the decree with the less stringent Internal Security Act (ISA) in Songkhla by the end of November.

"It will be the beginning of using less power, less stringency. If the result is satisfactory, the ISA will replace emergency rule in the other three provinces," Abhisit added.

The Muslim-majority area is also under martial law, allowing authorities to operate freely along the southern border with Malaysia.

The southern region was an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until mainly Buddhist Thailand annexed it in 1902, provoking decades of tension. (AFP)

MySinchew 2009.10.13

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