Muslim Rebel Leader Welcomes Thailand Coup

An exiled Muslim rebel leader Thursday welcomed Thailand's military coup, saying that he hoped the overthrow of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra could help resolve a bloody Islamic insurgency in southern Thailand.

Thaksin, who used an iron-fisted policy in trying to suppress the insurgency, was widely detested in southern Thailand and many moderate Muslims said that the bloody conflict could never be solved as long as he remained in power.

"It is the right thing that the military has taken power to replace the Thaksin Shinawatra government," said Lukman B. Lima, an exiled leader in one of several groups fighting the central government for a separate Muslim state.

"We hope that the political (situation) can be resolved under Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin as the new leader," Lukman said.

Sondhi, a 59-year-old Muslim in a predominantly Buddhist country, wrested control of Thailand's government from Thaksin in a swift, bloodless coup late Tuesday while the prime minister was abroad.

The coup leader has since received the endorsement of Thailand's revered king, though Western governments have expressed dismay and urged him to speedily restore democracy.

In an e-mailed response to questions from The Associated Press, Lukman said that Sondhi was the "only one who knows the real problems" of the Muslim-dominated provinces of southern Thailand.

Lukman, exiled in Sweden, is vice president of the Pattani United Liberation Organization, or PULO.

"We will continue to fight until full independence (is attained) in Pattani," he said, referring to the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.