Buddhists flee southern Thailand

Another forgotten war is heating up: the Islamic separatist insurgency in southern Thailand. Thousands of Buddhists are fleeing the region, and teachers seem to be especially targeted for assassination, according to this chilling account from Qatar’s Gulf Times, July 6:

Thousands of Buddhists flee Thailand’s south
BANGKOK — Thousands of Buddhist teachers and residents are fleeing Thailand’s Muslim south as 19 months of anti-government violence shows no sign of slackening, officials said yesterday.

Another 2,000 teachers were expected to move to safer provinces after at least two dozen of their colleagues were among nearly 800 people killed by militants since violence erupted in the largely Malay-speaking region in January last year, they said.

As incentives to stay, the Education Ministry is offering 3,000 free flak jackets and faster licenses for 1,700 teachers waiting to buy guns in the most dangerous parts of the three provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

“Guns are their best friends,” Deputy Education Minister Rung Kaewdaeng told reporters in Bangkok after visiting some of the 20,000 teachers in the region. “The teachers who survived are those who returned fire on their attackers.”

On Monday, Education Minister Adisak Bodharamik gave teachers wanting to move out a week to register and vowed to provide more security for those who wanted to stay.

Education Ministry data showed about 1,000 teachers have already left the region, where schools have been frequent militant targets as symbols of the government of predominantly Buddhist Thailand in faraway Bangkok.

Another 1,000 applications from teachers who routinely go to and from school with military escorts were awaiting approval.

Bombings, shootings and arson attacks directed at state buildings or workers — Buddhist and Muslim — have become daily occurences despite more than 30,000 troops and police patrolling the region of fewer than 2mn people.

The government has imposed martial law on parts of the region, where separatists fought low-key insurgencies in the 1970s and 1980s. But violence is unabated with nine people beheaded — in killings some top officials say have been inspired by Iraqi insurgents — in recent months and officials say thousands of locally-born people, many of them Buddhists, have moved out. Government data showed almost 15,000 people left between January 2004 and April 2005. In 2003, 22,000 moved in.

Rung said teachers leaving the far south would be replaced by volunteer and temporary teachers and the ministry would seek loans for teachers to buy guns to protect themselves. “Creating debt or saving your life, which one would you choose,” Rung replied when asked if encouraging teachers to take on more debt was a good idea.

A policeman was beheaded yesterday in troubled southern Thailand, the first member of the security forces to be decapitated in a string of such brutal attacks over the past month, police said.

The body of 44-year-old Sergeant Samphan Onyala, who was on duty but plainclothed, was found just after 8pm (1300 GMT) in Yarang district of Pattani province.

“Villagers heard gunshots and informed police, who went to the scene and found Sergeant Samphan shot once and with his head cut off,” a police officer in Yarang said.

The victim’s body was found close to his motorcycle while authorities were still searching for the head, he added.

See our last post on the insurgency in southern Thailand.

See also our last post on social misery in Thailand.