Bangkok-Many observers did not take Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra seriously when he hinted at a kinder and gentler administration during his second term. But on March 30, Mr Thaksin offered a glimpse of his "softer side" during a special joint session of Parliament to debate the problems in the deep South.
In remarks seen as uncharacteristic of the strong-willed Premier, Mr Thaksin admitted that he had made mistakes in his handling of the unrest in the Muslim-majority provinces.
"We are human, and human make things right or wrong. I am now determined to undo what I have done wrong in the past," said Mr Thaksin.
He also admitted that his government’s tough approach in dealing with the violence had fuelled the insurgency in the southern provinces.
"Using harsh measures in suppressing this unrest has caused more violence in the region. We don't want to force more innocent people to join those rebels because of unfair treatment.”
Mr Thaksin said he was looking for a more "lenient" way to handle the unrest. Among other things, he confirmed that he would not pursue his earlier stated policy of keeping development funds from villages in the South deemed sympathetic to insurgents.
He admitted that the controversial policy, which would have divided the regions into three different coloured zones, was a knee-jerk reaction.
Mr Thaksin said it was also time to withdrawcombat troops from the restive regions and use “legal means” in dealing with people who broke the law and posed a threat to public safety and national security.
Some 40,000 police and soldiers are now deployed in Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.
The Nation described Mr Thaksin’s remarks in Parliament as an “about-face from his usual uncompromising position".
The Bangkok Post said Mr Thaksin “caught his critics by surprise by putting aside his strong self-belief, admitting mistakes in handling the southern violence and pledging to right the wrong”.
* PM admits action in South flawed (Bangkok Post, March 31)
* Thaksin agrees to try the peaceful approach (The Nation, March 31)