Thai PM to make first visit to restive south

    January 13, 2009

    BANGKOK – New Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva will at the weekend visit the country's insurgency-hit deep south for the first time since he took office last month, a minister said Friday.

    Abhisit will make a one-day trip on Saturday to the Muslim-majority region, where more than 3,500 people have been killed since the rebellion broke out five years ago, Deputy Interior Minister Thavorn Sennium said.

    The announcement came as the cabinet agreed to extend emergency rule in the south for another three months to April.

    It is the 14th extension since the emergency was first imposed in 2005.

    "The National Security Council advised the government that emergency rule was crucial for security officials in terms of operation and investigation," said Supachai Jaisamut, deputy government spokesman.

    "But the militants are still mounting attacks against the authorities, therefore the emergency rule is necessary," he said.

    Rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Thai security forces of using "systematic" torture on suspects in the south, saying in a report that four people had been tortured to death.

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