Sat Jun 25,12:21 AM ET
BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand plans to help teachers buy cheap guns in restive southern provinces, where schools have been attacked since an Islamic insurgency broke out 18 months ago.
Rung Kaewdaeng, the deputy education minister, told Thai newspapers that authorities want to find cheap, second-gun guns that would be affordable for teachers.
"If the Education Ministry helps them by finding cheap, used and workable guns, it will be very good," Rung told the Bangkok Post.
The government would inspect the weapons, distribute catalogs of weapons to teachers and help transfer licenses, he said.
At least 21 teachers and other school staff have been killed since January 2004, when the unrest in the mainly Muslim south began with a raid on an army weapons depot. Several schools have suffered arson attacks, and teachers travel to and from class with armed escorts.
On Friday a Buddhist school principal was shot dead in Narathiwat province, making her one of the few women targetted in the violence.
Violence in the region near the Malaysian border has dramatically escalated this month, include 10 beheadings or attempted beheadings, despite a spate of government-sponsored peace efforts.
More than 720 people have died in the unrest, which authorities and analysts describe as a volatile mix of separatists, smugglers and organized crime, as well as corrupt politicians and security forces.
Thailand announced plans this week to declare "violent zones" in the south where police and troops will hunt and kill insurgents.