The attacks included fatal shootings by armed men riding pillion on motorcycles and a remote-controlled explosion near a military patrol in the region, where more than 360 people have been killed since violence erupted in January, police said on Friday.

   

Most of the incidents took place on Thursday when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has sacked two defence ministers this year for failing to tackle the violence, took charge of policy on the region, where many people speak Malay, not Thai.

   

The crisis, which analysts say has undermined Thaksin's credibility as a decisive leader and his popularity ahead of a general election due early next year, would take at least two years to solve, said a new security boss Thaksin just appointed.

 

Full mandate

   

Thaksin (L) has taken charge of
policy in southern Thailand

"It will take at least one or two years to see a significant change in the region," General Sirichai Thunyasiri, who was given a full mandate by Thaksin this week to run a multi-agency body to solve the southern violence.

 

"As long as we haven't won the hearts and minds of the people, we can't win this war," said Sirichai, who reports directly to Thaksin.

   

"My priority is to restore peace and order to the region," he said.

   

Most of those killed in the south have been civil servants and security officers from both the Muslim and Buddhist faiths.

   

The government has blamed the attacks on oil and arms smugglers, drug dealers and some rural politicians who teamed up with separatists. But no suspected mastermind has been caught.

 

Tactics

   

"As long as we haven't won the hearts and minds of the people, we can't win this war"

General Sirichai Thunyasiri

Thaksin has deployed various tactics and personnel in the past 10 months to end daily deadly attacks, but failed to stop the unrest, which erupted on 4 January when armed men raided an army camp killing four people and got away with almost 300 M-16 rifles.

   

The latest incident was on Friday, when a 38-year-old Buddhist soldier was shot six times with an assault rifle by men on a motorcycle in Pattani province, police said. He died in hospital.

   

No suspects had been identified in the latest violence in the region, where separatists fought a low-key insurgency in the 1970s and 1980s, they said.

   

Shortly before the shooting on Friday, police detained two Muslim religious students aged 24 and 28 as they parked their motorcycle near a police station, saying they resisted a search.

   

Police said they found a pistol and three bullets during a search of their Pattani house.