Sat, Nov 19, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Thailand urged to soften anti-Muslim measures: group

AFP , BANGKOK

Thailand has alienated Muslims in its insurgency-racked south and risks the involvement of foreign Islamic extremists unless it softens emergency measures there, the International Crisis Group said yesterday.

Last month the government renewed an emergency decree enforced in July in three southern Muslim-majority provinces to deal with unrest that has killed more than 1,000 people since January last year.

Abuses

The government meant it to be a softer version of martial law, but many have said the broad powers it gives to security forces have increased abuses and inflamed the insurgency there. While there is no evidence that foreign militants are currently involved, the worsening crisis risks being exploited by outside extremists groups looking to recruit and train new fighters, said the group in a report.

"There are legitimate concerns that if the violence worsens, it might be exploited by jihadi groups to establish a new area for training and recruitment," it said.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra should take "immediate steps" to moderate the decree or risk plunging the area into worse violence, the Brussels-based conflict prevention group said.

Accountability

"Trust between Malay Muslim villagers and security forces has broken down completely in some areas," Crisis Group analyst Francesca Lawe-Davies said. "In practice, the government's powers are the same as under martial law, but with less accountability."

The group said the decree leaves loopholes that allows security forces to arbitrarily detain and abuse suspects.

Another emerging problem involves police and military blacklisting villagers, often using weak intelligence and evidence.

"Those on the lists are told to surrender or face arrest or worse. While the government denies such lists are being used, village headmen confirm the practice," the group said.

The report comes amid a surge in violence in the deep south bordering Malaysia. Twenty people have died in a little over a week, including nine members from the same family who were killed in their sleep on Wednesday.

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