Sun, Sep 18, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Thai rebels slam minister's candidacy as next UN head

AFP , BANGKOK

A Thai Islamic separatist movement has told the UN Thailand's deputy prime minister was an "unacceptable" candidate to head the world body because his country violated human rights. Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai has been lobbying to become the next UN secretary general.

In a letter to the UN Security Council quoted in the Nation newspaper Saturday, the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) said Surakiart worked for a government which oppressed ethnic Malays in Thailand's troubled southern provinces.

Surakiart, a former foreign minister, was an "unacceptable" candidate as he tried to press the UN refugee agency into ruling against Thai Muslims who had fled to Malaysia seeking safe haven, the Nation quoted the PULO letter as saying.

He represents "a country with grave human rights violations, where the Malays are being oppressed and their basic rights denied -- be it before or after the UN charter signing in 1945," the letter dated Sept. 15 said.

Surakiart earlier this month urged the UN High Commissioner for Refugees not to take up the case of the 131 Thai Muslims who fled to Malaysia to avoid deadly unrest at home. At least 940 people have been killed in the Muslim-majority south since the unrest broke out in January 2004. Analysts and Thai authorities say the near-daily attacks are being carried out by Islamic separatists, drug dealers and organized criminals.

In a separate letter also published in the Nation, PULO criticized a suggestion by 25 parliamentarians from the ruling Thai Rak Thai party to shut down Islamic boarding schools in the provinces bordering Malaysia.

Shutting the schools would create more hatred of the Thai government among the Muslim community, the Nation quoted the PULO letter sent from the exiled group's base in Europe as saying.

The Thai parliamentarians on Wednesday said the Islamic boarding schools, known as pondoks, should be shut down as they taught only Islam and did not prepare students for further education.

Government officials believe the schools are training grounds for militants who have fought a long-running insurgency that flared up in January 2004.

"Pondoks are part of our culture and tok gurus, or the pondok's principals, are the religious focus of our community," PULO's letter said.

"To close them down means to bury our culture alive."

The Thai government earlier this month accused PULO of stirring rumors of an imminent government crackdown to frighten the 131 villagers into crossing the border in a bid to "internationalize" the conflict.

PULO was active in southern Thailand in the 1970s, staging bombings as part of a campaign to win independence for three Muslim provinces. The group largely disintegrated in the 1980s.

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