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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Thai editors' alarm over new law

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Thai editors' alarm over new law Thai editors' alarm over new law
Dozens of newspaper editors in Thailand have vowed to fight the imposition of a new emergency rule in the majority-Muslim south of the country.

Fifty editors from the Thai Journalists' Association said in a statement that the Thai media now faced its greatest threat in modern history.

The new decree gives the Thai prime minister sweeping powers, including censorship and phone tapping.

More than 800 people have died in southern unrest since January 2004.

The government has accused Muslim separatists of being behind the violence. Others blame the authorities for alienating the majority Muslim population.

Home to most of Thailand's 4% Muslim minority
Muslim rebels fought the government up to the mid-80s
Suspected militants have upped attacks since 2004, targeting Buddhists
Security forces' response criticised by rights groups

On Tuesday the Cabinet approved the emergency rule's enactment in three southern provinces - Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala.

But it rejected a request from the prime minister that parts of neighbouring Songkhla province be covered by the laws.

Analysts say the new legislation, which was first approved by the Thai Cabinet on Friday, is not substantially different from the martial law in the south which it replaces.

But they say it does strengthen Mr Thaksin's hand, allowing him to act unilaterally.

A respected former prime minister has suggested the emergency laws will be abused by government officials and lead to an increase in violence in the south.

"So far the government mechanisms have failed to arrest any culprits and do not know who are responsible [for the unrest]," Anand Panyarachun was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post.

"Government officials are inefficient... If government officials cannot bring in the culprits for punishment and continue to create hatred and mistrust against themselves, there will be serious concern when more sweeping powers are given to the officials. They may exercise the power under the executive decree intentionally or unintentionally in ways that could aggravate the crisis," he said.

Wide-ranging powers

The emergency measures, which have been criticised as unconstitutional and dictatorial by opposition politicians, journalists and human rights activists, give a range of special powers to the security forces and government officials.

They include detention of suspects for seven days and media censorship, and were granted by the Cabinet without judicial approval.

It agreed to issue the powerful decree after a series of co-ordinated attacks in the southern city of Yala on Thursday night.

Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, with its 4% Muslim population concentrated in the troubled southern provinces - Pattani, Yala, Songkhla and Narathiwat.

In recent months, there have been almost daily ambushes and murders of Buddhist monks, teachers, police and soldiers.

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