Hundreds of schools in Thailand's restive south will shut their doors in response to increasingly vicious attacks by suspected Muslim insurgents against teachers and schools, a regional education representative said.
The closure, which begins tomorrow, will affect all of the 336 primary and secondary schools located in the province of Pattani, where two teachers were shot and killed by suspected insurgents in the past two days alone. In one of the killings, attackers shot a school principal on Friday, and then set his body on fire.
"Teachers can't bear what has happened," said Bunsom Thongsriprai, president of the Teachers' Association in Pattani.
"They are paranoid, worried and afraid," he said.
Teachers have been occasional targets for a long time, seen by the insurgents as representatives of the government they oppose -- and as easy targets. But recently, attacks have specifically been directed both at teachers and their schools on an almost daily basis.
On Thursday, 96 schools across Yala were ordered closed as a safety precaution after a school was burned down the day before in broad daylight. It was one of several schools in the province recently targeted by arsonists.
The Yala schools were initially scheduled to reopen tomorrow, but school authorities have decided to keep them closed until further notice, said Sanya Suwannapho, head of the Teachers' Association in Yala province.
The schools will reopen when teachers feel safe.
More than 1,800 people have died from violence in the three southernmost, predominately Muslim provinces of Thailand -- Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat -- since an Islamic insurgency flared up in the region in January 2004.
Thailand's new military-installed government has pledged to make peace in the south a priority, and reverse hardline policies of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawtra, who was deposed by a coup on Sept. 19.
Defense Minister Boonrawd Somtat said on Friday that insurgents had stepped up violence to prevent residents from considering accepting new peace overtures from the authorities.
"They have intensified violent attacks to intimidate and terrify people," Boonrawd said, adding that the shadowy groups behind the violence have not accepted government offers to hold talks.