Thai prime minister to visit restive southern provinces

Thailand's prime minister said Tuesday he plans to visit the country's restive south this week to offer moral support to teachers who have been increasingly targeted in attacks by suspected Muslim insurgents.

One teacher was shot and killed on his way to work Tuesday in Yala province. Some 130 schools in Yala have closed their doors in a weeklong protest after suspected Islamic insurgents attacked a school on Friday injuring four teachers.

The victim of Tuesday's attack, 40-year-old Rangsarith Dokmai, was driving to work on a motorcycle when a gunman, seated on the back of another motorcycle, approached and fired at close range, said police Col. Kamron Yodrak. Rangsarith was a secondary school teacher at the Thammavitaya school in the municipal township of Yala province.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said two teachers have been killed and five injured in the past week, mostly in Yala.

"I will go there to give the teachers moral support and to inspect the situation," he told reporters in the northern city of Chiang Mai, adding that the trip would take place this week. It will be the prime minister's first visit to the violence-wracked southern Thai provinces since October.

Thaksin has faced sharp criticism for his mishandling of a bloody Muslim insurgency in the kingdom's three southernmost provinces, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, the only Muslim majority areas in mostly Buddhist Thailand. More than 1,200 people have died in violence there since January 2004, reports the AP.

I.L.