Islamic guerrillas and Thai army clash
Thai PM invokes emergency powers. "We need to restrict rights and liberties of the majority of people so that everyone can live together in peace," he says. Measure is criticised as "dictatorial".

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Two bombs exploded today in the city of Narathiwat—one detonated in front of a health office, injuring a policeman and a soldier and the other blew up in Ra-ngae district. Two people were also shot at by an unidentified sniper also in Ra-ngae district.

These are but a few of the violent incidents that have affected southern Thailand as the Thai army and Islamic guerrillas clash.

On Friday, after a dramatic raid on Yala town that left four dead and at least 20 wounded, the Thai government gave Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra full power over the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, as well four predominantly Muslim districts in neighbouring Songkhla province.

Mr Thaksin had appointed a National Reconciliation Commission to find a solution to end the insurgency but with few results. Now he has opted for emergency powers. Thus, anyone can be arrested for up to seven days without formal charges, phones can be bugged, curfew and censorship imposed.

Today a cabinet meeting is scheduled to define the Prime Minister's extraordinary powers.

"We have to be decisive now," Mr Thaksin said. "Otherwise the unrest could spill over to other provinces."

"When society is not safe, we need to restrict rights and liberties of the majority of people so that everyone can live together in peace," he said.

The national press has instead come out against the state of emergency, arguing that with martial law already in place, it was futile, dictatorial and unconstitutional,

What is more, the measure might push moderate Muslims to protest; they have been waiting for improvements Thaksin promised back in 2000 when he was elected.

In southern Thailand, there is greater poverty, unemployment and discrimination compared to the rest of the country, more prosperous and predominantly Buddhist.

Abdulrahman Abdulsamad, head of the Islamic Committee of Narathiwat, warned that unfair arrests could provoke a repeat of last October's Tak Bai incident in which more than 80 people died.

Some analysts view the recent attacks as the work of Muslim rebels in cooperation with criminal groups and smugglers.

Muslims constitute 4 per cent of the population in the predominantly Buddhist country

Muslim rebels want the southern provinces to secede and join Malaysia to which they belonged till a century ago.

In recent incidents, rebels have shown greater capabilities—including using remote-control bombs—and have begun targeting other provinces.

After 18 months, the death toll from the violence stands at 810, including Buddhist monks.

Since last October, Thai authorities have trained and armed more than 10,000 Buddhists to defend themselves in a situation that increasingly smacks of civil war. (PB)