Southeast Asia Theater
Eight Thai civilians—all Buddhists—were killed in the troubled south of Thailand when their van was shot upon by suspected Islamist guerrillas March 15. Thai security officials suspect that the attack was meant coincide with the founding of the National Revolutionary Front, a decades-old separatist group in the southern region of Patani.
Australia's military adventure in East Timor is starting to smell more like a small counterinsurgency war than a "peacekeeping" mission—if the world were paying any attention. From Catholic News, March 14:
Timor priest accuses Aussie troops
As fugitive Timorese rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado calls for mediation by the Church, an East Timor priest has accused Australian troops of terrifying local villagers after a raid by the soldiers left a number of houses in ruins.
Australian "peacekeeping" troops killed four in a raid on rebels in East Timor March 4, but their leader Alfredo Reinado escaped. Reinado, who deserted the army last year and is wanted for his alleged role in deadly clashes that brought down the government, stole more than 20 automatic weapons in a raid on a police post, prompting President Xanana Gusmao to request his arrest by Australian forces. The exchange of fire followed a tense stand-off in the town of Same, where tank and helicopter movements were reported. (AP, The Australian, March 4)
Anti-war protesters clashed with police in Sydney Feb. 22 before the arrival of US Vice President Dick Cheney. Seven people were arrested as mounted police attempted to bar hundreds from marching through Australia's largest city, demanding Prime Minister John Howard pull troops out of Iraq. (Reuters, Feb. 23) Meanwhile, Australian troops in East Timor shot and killed a youth who was firing steel arrows at the soldiers as they responded to a disturbance at a refugee camp near Dili airport. Two Timorese civilians were also injured in the incident. Some 800 Australian troops are in East Timor following a request from the small nation's government last year after weeks of deadly violence. About 1,000 international police are also in East Timor as part of a UN mission. (The West, Australia, Feb. 23)
Thailand was shaken by a string of simultaneous terror blasts on the Christian New Year, and now again on the Chinese New Year. The Jan. 1 blasts in Bangkok are still murky, but the Feb. 17 blasts in the heavily Muslim south are claimed to be the work of Islamic militants. Few are making the connection, but could the date have been chosen because it marked the opening of the Year of the Pig—an animal thought to be propitious in Chinese astrology, but haram for Muslims? Interestingly, authorities in China have actually banned images of the pig from state television during the festivities, in the name of cultural sensitivity—a move that Alt.Muslim dismisses as "Throwing a (Pig) Bone to China's Muslims," a patronizing gesture aimed at underming the Muslim Uighur insurgency in China's far west. In Thailand, some arrests have been made, but little real information seems available. How devout could these supposed Muslim militants be if they "boosted their courage with narcotics and cough syrup"—which is just as haram as swine for the orthodox? From AP, Feb. 20:
Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting in the Philippine city of Cebu, are working on a regional anti-terror pact the day after a series of bombs exploded in nearby towns on the southern Mindanao island. At least eight were killed and over 30 injured in the attacks in Cotabato City, General Santos City and Kidapawan City.
From Bangkok's The Nation, Jan. 4:
Blasts shatter hopes for reconciliation
The bomb blasts that hit Bangkok on New Year's Eve signalled that the worst is yet to come. The explosions, which killed three people and injured almost 40, were certainly not the work of international terrorists, who typically direct their attacks at large targets for maximum impact and exposure -- that much is certain. However theories and counter-theories abound regarding the other two key suspects -- southern insurgents and the remnants of the previous regime. Some analysts have ruled out militants from the deep South on the grounds that it would be unlikely for them to want to venture beyond their accustomed areas. Besides, the manner in which the bomb devices were planted in eight different locations in Bangkok was too sophisticated for southern insurgents.
From the Brunei Times, Nov. 9:
Surayud eyes autonomy for Thai south
Thailand's military-appointed prime minister, whose visit to the troubled deep South yesterday sparked a new wave of violence, is mulling to allow the rule of sharia law in the majority-Muslim region as a long-term solution to its problems.