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South merchants no longer afraid to trade on Fridays: officials

Attempts by authorities to reduce the climate of fear among businesses in the deep South appeared to have produced tangible results yesterday, as 80 per cent of shops opened despite insurgents' warnings not to do business on Fridays, the Internal Security Operation Command (Isoc) said.

"With the strong campaign and security measures, people in the deep South understand and are confident in the situation. Some 60-80 per cent of shops in the region resumed normal business," said Pramot Promin, spokesman for Isoc's forward command.

Insurgents in the predominantly Muslim region have distributed leaflets and spread rumours that working or doing business on Friday, Islam's holy day, is against the religion's principles. Those who opened their businesses on the day would be in danger, according to the warnings.

People's rights violated

The threats violated residents' human rights and abused religious principles to advance the political interests of the extremists, Pramot said.

Pitak Kokiatpitak, mayor of Pattani municipality, said he was satisfied to see commerce in downtown Pattani getting back to normal and expected that the situation would be business as usual in the coming weeks.

But Sankanee Puraskarn, a vegetable vendor at a Pattani fresh market, saw less to cheer about, saying the atmosphere in the market was still relatively quiet although some traders had returned to their businesses yesterday.

"Many traders have come back to the market, but the customers haven't," she said. "They're afraid."

In southernmost Narathiwat, Thawee Sodsong, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, presided over the opening of one the government's "Blue Flag" markets, which aim to sell consumer goods to local people at low prices and to build confidence.

A Narathiwat market yesterday appeared lively, with many traders who had closed their stores on recent Fridays open for business.


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