The head of the Nahdlatul Ulama, the world's largest Islamic group, has begun a mission in Thailand to help ease tensions in the Muslim-majority south where an insurgency is raging.
The Indonesia-based Ulama chairman Hasyim Muzadi and his five-member team met Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra early on Monday to discuss the conflict that has claimed more than 630 lives since January 2004.
Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said the two men agreed the insurgents were using religion to fuel the violence, and that improved education in the Muslim-dominated south was key to boosting living standards and ending economic problems in the region.
Muzadi was granted a royal audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Monday evening, and was due to meet Buddhist and Muslim religious leaders.
He and his team are to travel through the southern provinces along the Malaysian border, Kantathi said.
"He said misunderstandings could be solved if we speak frankly and exchange information," Kantathi added.
Thailand hopes the visit by the Ulama team will help improve the situation in the violence-wracked south, where one man was shot dead on the weekend and 15 were injured after insurgents bombed and ambushed a maintenance car carrying police and soldiers on a railway.
Violence surged after Thai police
killed 87 Muslim protesters
Another five people, including one policeman and one former policeman, were injured in a shooting late on Sunday when two men on motorcycle opened fire on people sitting outside a house in Pattani's Sai Buri district.
"We hope the visit will help, as their mission represents the Muslim world coming here to find the truth," Kantathi said.
Muzadi warned that "a military approach only makes the fundamentalists more and more strong."
"Problem solving is not only with a military approach, but also a justice approach, an economic approach, and also an educational approach," he said.
On Wednesday, Musazi is due to travel to Thailand's south to meet the chairmen of provincial Islamic committees in the Muslim majority provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.
"Problem solving is not only with a military approach, but also a justice approach, an economic approach, and also an educational approach"
He is also set to visit a royal project and an Islamic school in Pattani province, and also to meet the chairman of the southern military command.
Muzadi, who was invited by Thailand to visit, also plans to meet the Indonesian community in Bangkok on Thursday before returning on Friday to Indonesia.