Mon, Nov 15, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Violence escalates in Thailand

IN COLD BLOOD Two men were gunned down by suspected Islamic militants, apparently in order to scare Buddhists away from Krong Penang in Yala province

AP , BANGKOK AND KUALA LUMPUR

A Thai muslim woman yesterday holds a banner in protest of Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in front of the Thai government house in Bangkok. Shinawatra yesterday met with academics to solve the southern violence problem at the Thai government house.

PHOTO: EPA

Suspected Islamic militants gun-ned down a Buddhist ex-policeman and a migrant worker yesterday in the latest violence to hit Thailand's tense, mostly Muslim deep south, police said.

The body of Lance Corporal Aroon Pongchangkid, 48, was found riddled with bullets from an M-16 rifle in the bathroom of his house at his rubber and fruit plantation in Yala province's Krong Penang district, said police Sub-Lieutenant Karoon Limpirojrit.

A 27-year-old rubber tapper from neighboring Myanmar, identified only as Ton, also died at the house from multiple gunshot wounds, apparently from a similar weapon, Karoon said.

"We believe that the insurgents broke into the house and killed them in order to scare away the Buddhists from the area, because the attackers did not take any valuables from his house," he said.

The shootings followed a spate of bombings that left one Buddhist man dead and at least 27 people wounded Friday and Saturday near the Malaysian border.

In a separate incident late on Saturday, alleged insurgents torched two trucks from a construction company building a bridge in Narathiwat province's Ruesor district, police said.

The far southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat are the only Muslim-majority areas in predominantly Buddhist Thailand. The revival of a decades-old separatist struggle there is thought to be behind attacks that have left more than 500 people dead in the area this year.

The region has been particularly tense since security forces broke up a violent protest by thousands of young Muslims in Narathiwat on Oct. 25. Seven protesters were fatally shot, while another 78 suffocated or were crushed to death after being bound and stacked into army trucks.

Southern Thai Muslims say the central government has discriminated against them, especially in employment and education. Critics say the government has provoked further strife by using heavy-handed tactics.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ordered the area's governors to meet with members of Parliament, religious leaders and local residents in an attempt to halt the violence, but acknowledged that "it's not that easy to stop."

Meanwhile, Malaysia's top Islamic opposition leader has urged Muslim clerics in Thailand to talk to their king and their government to resolve the bloody separatist conflict.

Authorities in the predominantly Buddhist country should give the Muslim clergy room to help resolve the problem peacefully, Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat said yesterday after celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr.

Nik Aziz is the influential spiritual leader of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party, which governs the northeastern state of Kelantan bordering southern Thailand.

Bernama, the national news agency, quoted Nik Aziz as saying that the clergy should seek an audience with Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, if necessary, to show they aspire for peace.

Nik Aziz said Muslims in Thailand must be patient and united in facing the conflict, and that Thailand should emulate multiracial and multi-religious Malaysia in resolving problems and conflicts to ensure that its people live in peace.

Nik Aziz, a 73-year-old cleric, has been the chief minister, or the highest elected official, of Kelantan state since 1990.

He wields tremendous clout in the state, one of Malaysia's poorest and least developed after 14 years of the Islamic party's strict fundamentalist rule.

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