Thailand may reduce troop levels in south: deputy PM

BANGKOK - Thailand is considering reducing the number of troops in its insurgency-riven south if a lull in violence holds, the deputy prime minister said on Tuesday.

"We won't withdraw troops from the area but we can reduce the number and focus on development rather than fighting," Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog, who oversees national security, told reporters.

His remarks came after the Thai government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) Muslim rebel group agreed to curb violence during Ramadan.

So far, in the first week of the holy month "there was very little violence and no loss of life, only injuries," he added.

"We can say that the BRN is sincere to a certain extent based on its behaviour," he said.

Nearly a decade of conflict in Thailand's southernmost provinces has left more than 5,700 people dead.

Thailand has about 60,000 troops stationed in the south.

Despite four rounds of peace talks since March, continued bloodshed before Ramadan had raised questions about how much control rebel leaders have over radical militants.

In one of the deadliest attacks, eight soldiers were killed when a roadside blast ripped through their truck last month.

But now the situation "is moving in a positive direction," said Thailand's National Security Council chief and lead peace negotiator Paradorn Pattanatabut.

According to Malaysia, which is hosting peace talks, Thai security forces pledged to avoid aggressive action for a 40-day period from July 10 to August 18, while the BRN agreed to refrain from violent attacks.

Under the plan, Thai authorities have removed a number of roadblocks and the military has withdrawn its personnel from some villages in a bid to ease tension.