Millions of origami paper cranes yesterday rained down upon Thailand's three violence-torn southern provinces in an extravagant government-sponsored gesture aimed at bringing peace to the predominantly Muslim region.
The expensive gesture, however, was marred by at least one killing in Pattani province.
Nat Viphasaet, 62, a former attorney general of Pattani, was gunned down at 11:00am by a man on a motorcycle as he watched the origami rain down on his neighborhood in Nongjik, on the outskirts of Pattani, police said.
Nat was a Buddhist. More than 80 percent of the 2 million people living in Thailand's southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala are Muslims, making the region an anomaly in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.
Thailand's airforce yesterday morning dispatched from Hat Yai airport an armada of 51 planes including Hercules 130s, Nomads, BG-37 carriers, Cesna planes, AU-23 fighters, Bell helicopters and a handful of small civilian aircraft loaded with an estimated 97 million paper birds to be dropped on the three provinces, where more than 500 people have died in sectarian clashes this year.
The planes started their origami operation at 9:09am, deemed an auspicious time, and should be finished by 5:15pm.
"This is a huge task for the air force," said Royal Thai Air Force combat commander Air Chief Marshal Tharit Pukthasuk, director of the origami operation. "We will try to drop as many birds as possible."
About 50 million paper birds had been dropped by midday yesterday, creating a festival-like atmosphere in southern towns where children and adults rushed to catch the falling origami.
"At first I didn't want to participate, but when I saw others doing it it seemed like fun," said Hariya Jatamathar, 27, a resident of Pattani, 780km south of Bangkok. "I hope it will help the situation improve here."