Bangkok - Even as observers warn that the insurgency in southern Thailand has spiralled out of control, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra believes that he can end the unrest within three years. So confident is he - or perhaps it is typical Thaksin bravado - that he has urged Thais to vote him out of office at the next election in 2008 if he fails to deliver on his pledge.
The Prime Minister, who has made it clear that he will support forceful action following the brutal killings of two Thai marines in a Narathiwat village on Sept 21, said he would "take responsibility for everything that happens".
"I will supervise and closely instruct the military on how to put down the unrest in the south," Mr Thaksin said in his weekly radio address on Sept 24. "If I make mistakes, you should not vote for me in three years."
Earlier, Mr Thaksin vowed to use "an iron fist in a velvet glove" in dealing with the mounting violence in the deep South provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.
He told reporters on Sept 22 that the killers of the two marines would face the full force of the law. However, he gave the assurance that there would be no military retaliation against the villagers of Tanyong Limo, where the two marines were beaten and stabbed to death by a mob even as negotiators were trying to secure their release.
Mr Thaksin said officials trying to free the marines did not take the necessary measures to save the two men because they delayed negotiations for fear they could be faced with another Tak Bai. The Thai military came under heavy criticism after 85 Muslims died after a protest was broken up in the southern town of Tak Bai in October last year.
"Officials have been wondering about how to go about their work. They fear that if they do this (use force), they will be vilified. But if they don't do that, they themselves may end up dead," Mr Thaksin said.
The Prime Minister added that he had told his officials to get tough in the hunt for the killers of the two marines.
"Don't be afraid of anything, otherwise they would die like two marines. All blame, if any, should come directly to me."
For those who believe that a sensitive approach is needed to tackle the unrest in the deep South, Mr Thaksin's get-tough message appears to be a "recipe for disaster because it gives so much discretion to people with a questionable record in the use of force", the Bangkok Post said in an editorial.
It described the Sept 21 dramatic showdown between Tanyong Limo villagers and security forces, which followed the unexplained killings of two civilians in a drive-by shooting two days earlier - as a "dramatic expression of the local community's mistrust of state authorities".
"More than before, security forces must exercise restraint, rather than let anger and loss get the better of them. More than before, they and their civilian counterparts must work to build trust among the people through constructive projects that improve their lives.
"The Prime Minister has been known to have second thoughts when called for, and this is certainly an occasion. An eye-for-an- eye solution is no solution for the complicated situation that he faces in the deep South today."
* 'Vote me out if I don't end violence in the South' (The Sunday Times, Sept 25)
* Eye for an eye is no solution (Bangkok Post, Sept 23)
* Get tough, orders Thaksin (The Nation, Sept 23)