The first of two battalions ordered to reinforce the military presence in the south, where forces are on high alert for fear of reprisals, was due to arrive in the troubled region by train, said a senior army source on Sunday.
 
"Our battalion will arrive in Pattani on Monday and will be ready to work straight away," he said, adding that the soldiers who cut their teeth in war-torn East Timor would carry out security and development projects.

"Our task is providing security to local people and government officials, not only teachers but any government officials who ask for security protection," he said. The battalion is believed to number about 500 men.
 
About 108 people were killed in Wednesday's clashes, after they mounted disastrous raids on well-armed and well-prepared police stations and checkpoints in three Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia.
 
Thailand has defended its handling of the violence and rejected growing international calls for an investigation into the use of such overwhelming force against young men, believed armed mostly just with machetes.

Response 'justified'

Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula said on Sunday the response was justified in light of the four months of violence against government officials, security forces and schools which preceded the attacks.
 

Thai troops will act as 
peacekeepers in the region 

"When hundreds of our officials and innocent people were killed in the past few months, we were blamed for not solving the problems," he told reporters.

"But when they were impetuous enough to attack security posts and were killed, we were blamed for over-reacting."
 
Bhokin suggested the "rebels" who escaped with their lives could be regrouping. "There are hundreds who ran away from the incident, we don't know what they will do next," he said.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Saturday hit out at foreign interference over the clashes, as the United Nations called for an inquiry and Malaysia offered to take any refugees fleeing the region.

"Some foreign countries have expressed their readiness to interfere and what I can say is that we have done everything to exercise maximum restraint," he said in a radio address.

"If we already explained and they do not understand, that is their problem. We are not begging for food from any countries and we did not start this problem," he said.

Refugees

Muslims comprise Thailand's
largest religious minority

Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan on Friday noted that "officials are required to refrain from using force exceeding that strictly required by the exigencies of the situation."
 
Thailand also rejected Malaysian Prime Minister Abd Allah Ahmad Badawi's reported offer to take in refugees.

"We are able to take care of our own people and the situation is already under control and has not triggered any refugees," foreign ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow said.

In a sign of Malaysia's alarm over the trouble on its border, its deputy prime minister Najib Razaq reportedly said he would lead a mission on Tuesday to meet the Thai prime minister to discuss border security cooperation.