ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Thailand sets aside $1.6b to develop restive south
Thailand's cabinet on Thursday approved an emergency 1.6-billion-dollar budget to develop the economy of the restive far south after a recent upsurge in deadly violence in the region, reported Reuters.
The funds will be spent on 300 projects, a government spokesman said, in the hope that economic development of the three troubled provinces will help quell separatist unrest that has claimed 3,700 lives in the past five years.
"The special cabinet on the south approved 300 projects to develop the economy in the south with a budget of 54 billion baht ($1.6 billion)," said spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.
He gave no details of what the economic projects might involve but said a 15 billion-baht first tranche of funds would be rolled out immediately.
On Thursday suspected Muslim militants in the region shot dead four people including a pregnant woman, police said. The attacks came in a particularly violent week for the Muslim-majority south, where 11 people were killed in an attack on a mosque Monday during evening prayers -- the deadliest incident in the region this year.
The latest violence brings the toll of those killed in attacks since last Tuesday to 32. Prime Mininster Abhisit Vejjajiva chaired Thursday's special cabinet meeting, which also approved a 400-million-baht (11.8-million-dollar) fund to increase the number of defence volunteers in the southern border provinces by 1,440.
About 66,000 security forces are already deployed in the area bordering Malaysia where emergency rule has been in place since July 2005. Abhisit told the meeting he would send Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban to the region on Saturday, Panitan said.
The foreign ministry later released a statement "expressing regret and condemning the armed assaults on the mosque, and the sorrow over the death of the mosque's imam and the innocent victims."
"The Royal Thai Government strongly condemns this despicable act of violence, and will spare no effort to bring the perpetrators of this criminal act to justice," it said. The government blames separatist Islamist militants for the violence, but the shadowy insurgent groups never claim responsibility for the attacks and have never set out their demands.
Rights groups have accused the military of committing systematic abuses in the south. The army Tuesday denied villagers' claims that troops were responsible for the mosque attack. The southern region was an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until Thailand annexed it in 1902, provoking decades of tension, with the most recent period of unrest erupting in January 2004.
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