Sunday, October 09, 2005

More terror elsewhere: Thailand's southern Islamic provinces bordering Malaysia

Bali’s agony, Thailand’s turmoil Jan McGirk - openDemocracy

This is a useful overview about a no-doubt-deliberately-under-reported Muslim insurgency in Thailand's southern provinces, snaking down the peninsula which is half Thailand, half Burma, and ends with Malaysia. Phuket is down there, and Muslims outnumber Buddhists in places 4 to 1. There are an estimated 10,000 rebels in a population of 4 million, and there have been 1,000 killings since January 2004.
"Beheadings, bombs and drive-by shootings now are everyday atrocities in Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat provinces. The very persistence of violence has meant that grim statistics have lost much of their shock value. The victims have come from all ranks of society: Buddhist monks, Muslim clerics, judges, schoolteachers, footballers, shopkeepers, postmen.

After a sniper killed an ice-cream vendor on the street, popsicle-sellers ditched their uniforms to prevent being mistaken for paramilitaries. Army helicopters swoop over the rubber plantations nightly and humvees lumber past sodden groves where unpicked fruit rots on the trees. Bazaars shutter early and nightlife is only a memory. Teachers at vulnerable government schools feel particularly under threat; many have demanded pistol permits (and time for target-practice) or else a transfer to safer areas in the north."
"[A] poster recently warned catfish vendors who neglect to close shop on Fridays (the Islamic day of worship) that they can expect their ears to be sliced off."
It sounds like a pretty scary place to begin with, and nothing seems clear cut (I'm sure it's no less terrifying to fear criminals than it is to fear terrorists):

"The torrid provinces near the Malaysian frontier, far from Bangkok, have long been a dumping-ground for corrupt officials caught with their hands in the till elsewhere. Smugglers of narcotics, underage prostitutes, undocumented workers, firearms, or endangered exotic wildlife and timber take advantage of the porous border and circuitous sea routes that thread through small islands.

The black market enriches even minor players, and turf wars erupt over payoffs and supplies. Newly arrived security troops, which now number 30,000, are forced to sort out the militant action from ongoing criminal feuds or minor diversionary blasts which enable illicit trade to carry on."
The Prime Minister had a lovely idea:
"In December 2004, Thaksin demanded that Thai schoolchildren and civil servants fold up 100 million origami cranes in a bizarre scheme to 'peace bomb' the south with flocks of Buddhist good wishes."


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