The academics from 18 Thai universities said on Monday Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra should take responsibility for the deaths following a riot two weeks ago in the insurgency-wracked Muslim-majority south of the country. 

Thaksin has said the deaths should not have happened, but stopped short of a full apology. On Monday he said he could apologise if he thought it would help the situation. 

"I am ready to do anything if it helps to stop the problem. I could apologise if it will help, I can walk to every single house if it helps," he said.

"The government has to do many things to heal people's feelings after the incident." 

Policy of suppression

A total of 87 people died after troops broke up the riot at Tak
Bai in the southern province of Narathiwat with tear gas, water cannon and gunfire. The majority suffocated or were crushed after being bound and left for hours in trucks. 

Thaksin said he was willing to do
anything to help the situation

Since the tragedy, Thaksin has continued to take a hard line
against armed dissidents blamed for an insurgency that has left at least 539 people dead since January. 

But the academics in their letter said the government had failed in its tough policy of suppression.

"We totally disagree with the policy of using force to solve the problem and we call for the government to change its policies," said the letter. 

"We also agree the prime minister should consider his mistakes
and express his responsibility. As the highest person in power, the prime minister cannot deny responsibility for the failure of the policies and the least the prime minister should do is apologise to the people, especially Muslims and relatives of the dead people," it added. 

Thaksin said he was prepared to meet the academics to discuss their concerns. 

Muslims make up about 4% of the population of predominantly Buddhist Thailand and form the majority in four of the kingdom's southern provinces.