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Thailand arms villagers to fight insurgents in south

Thailand's army has distributed thousands of rifles to villagers in the south of the country to fight insurgents, according to officials.

Some 2,700 rifles have been handed out to villagers, as Thailand's government vowed to bring peace to the Muslim-majority south within a year.

A spokesperson from Thailand's Internal Operations Security Command (ISOC) told AFP,

"They need weapons for self-defence, they can't fight with just wooden sticks... They are for security volunteers who are stationed at provincial halls, district offices. They will also protect governors and district chiefs.”

Reports of the move to arm villagers came after Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters that the government would “try to bring peace within a year" to the region. "We are doing all that we can,” said the minister.

Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher on Thailand at Human Rights Watch, however told Reuters, "The military needs to wake up to the reality that they have their share of responsibility to improve the situation in southern Thailand."

"They must start by disciplining and prosecuting their own troops who violate human rights," she added.

Violence in the Muslim-majority region has killed more than 5,700 people so far.