Surayud Chulanont, installed by the military following last month's coup, signalled he would not take the hardline approach to the conflict of his predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Following talks in Kuala Lumpur with Abdullah Ahmad Badwi, the Malaysian prime minister,  Surayud said he would negotiate with Muslim leaders in southern Thailand

"We will try to talk to a lot of people. Initially I told the  Malaysian prime minister that I will talk to the Muslim leaders in  the south, talk to kids in schools.

"So that is the way I'm trying to present myself, by way of talking."

His comments came after another upsurge in violence this week in Thailand's Muslim-majority south, where a two-year conflict has left more than 1,500 people dead.

Malaysian influence

Last month's coup in Thailand sparked hopes for peace in the  region after a Muslim army general led the removal of Thaksin, who had been widely criticised for his heavy-handed response to the  violence.

Malaysian and Thai leaders
discussed the issue this week

 

The Thai government has said it hopes to hold talks with two insurgent groups early next month, and insurgent leaders reportedly said they would like to hold the negotiations in Malaysia.

Malaysia has said it is willing to play a bigger role in resolving the crisis and Mahathir Mohamad, the former premier,  recently said he had brokered talks between Thai officials and Muslim groups late last year to try to establish a ceasefire.

Badawi said after meeting Surayud that it was the hope of the leaders of both countries that southern Thailand would be returned to peace.

"For Malaysia we would like to see southern Thailand as an area that is peaceful, where the Thais many of whom are Muslims ... will be able to live in peace without fear," he said.