BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand's new government will consider granting some degree of self-rule to Muslim-majority provinces hit by bloody separatist unrest, Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said Tuesday.
More than 2,900 people have died in the southern provinces along the Malaysian border since separatist violence erupted four years ago.
The violence has become increasingly deadly over the last year, despite repeated olive branches offered by the previous military government.
In the latest unrest, a 40-year-old Buddhist man was shot and set ablaze in Pattani province late Monday, while three others were shot dead in nearby provinces early Tuesday, police said.
"I want to reaffirm that autonomy is possible, but we will have to discuss what type of autonomy it would be," Chalerm told reporters.
He said that Thailand would consider China's westernmost Xinjiang region, which is autonomous and predominantly Muslim, as a possible model.
"We cannot afford to allow so many deadly bombings. We must take measures to improve the situation and not just wait to be killed," he said.
However Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was cautious about the proposal, saying his government would develop its policy on the insurgency within a few days.
"What Chalerm proposed, he thinks a good idea. But I think this idea could be dangerous and it could get out of hand," he told reporters after his second cabinet meeting.
Chalerm said that unlike his predecessors, he would not make frequent trips to the Muslim south, saying such trips only spark more violence.
"Militants retaliate fiercely when a senior government minister visits the region," he said.
Chalerm also indicated that intelligence agencies continued to believe militants could seek to expand their activities and possibly stage bomb attacks in the southern commercial centre of Hat Yai or even in Bangkok.
He said night clubs in the southern region were particularly at risk, because militants saw them as an affront to Islam.
Chalerm said he would ask local officials to consider new restrictions on night life.
The region was an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until mainly Buddhist Thailand annexed it in 1902, provoking decades of tension.
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