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VOICE OF AMERICA
SLUG: 5-56350 Thailand / Southern Violence
DATE:
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=01/04/05

TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT

TITLE=THAILAND/SOUTHERN VIOLENCE

NUMBER=5-56350

BYLINE=HEDA BAYRON

DATELINE=HONG KONG

CONTENT:

VOICED AT:

HEADLINE: Security Forces on High Alert in Thailand's South One Year After Violence Begins

INTRO: Thousands of security forces in southern Thailand are on high alert after warnings that Islamic militants may stage major attacks this week - exactly a year since a deadly raid that triggered a spate of violence in the region. As VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong, hundreds of people have been killed in almost daily attacks in the region.

TEXT: An early morning attack on an army base on January 4th, 2004, killed four soldiers, and triggered a year of violence in Thailand's Muslim majority provinces that has so far led to the deaths of more than five hundred people.

No one claimed responsibility for that first attack. However, the Thai government says it and subsequent attacks have been the work of loosely organized Muslim militants - allegedly led by Muslim teachers, four of whom were arrested last month and will soon go on trial.

The spate of bombings, shootings and arson attacks have targeted teachers, monks, students and policemen in the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat, Songhkla and Yala. The violence has disrupted the lives of residents and discouraged investment in the impoverished region.

A group called the Pattani United Liberation Organization warned of attacks this week to mark the anniversary of the army base raid.

However, Sunai Phasuk of Amnesty International in Bangkok says it remains unclear who is really behind the violence.

/// SUNAI ACT ///

"It has been a year already, there's increased militarization, martial law has been imposed, increasing number of police have been deployed into southern Thailand . but until today, they couldn't provide any answer to the Thai public. This is very disturbing, in a sense that the government cannot identify who are they dealing with."

/// END ACT ///

The region, which borders Malaysia, was annexed by Thailand 100 years ago, and a majority of its residents are Muslims, although Thailand as a whole is overwhelmingly Buddhist.

Separatist groups formed by ethnic Malays were active in the area until the 1970s. Security experts say the current violence may be linked to separatist guerillas or local criminal gangs, or both.

Analysts say general discontent over the region's poverty has come together with extremist Islamic influences to foment the latest unrest.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has suggested that some of the militants have trained in Malaysia, and have taken refuge there after carrying out attacks.

The government has responded to the violence by sending more security forces and investment to the region, and has cooperated with Malaysia to stem possible cross-border terrorism.

Prime Minister Thaksin said last month that security was improving.

/// THAKSIN ACT ///

"(The situation is) better and better, but it (militants) might be temporarily fight back a little bit, but I think we are in good control."

/// END ACT ///

But Panitan Wattanyagorn, a security expert at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University, says the government lacks a comprehensive solution to the problem.

He also says that as the government has failed in its attempts to curb the violence, the militants have grown stronger.

/// 1st PANITAN ACT ///

"They are now more popular. Their ideologies are now more visible. They are also able to get connected to various elements overseas and there have been more recruits."

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Sunai, the human rights activist, says incidents such as the deaths of more than 80 Muslim protesters at the hands of the security forces in October have not helped the government's cause.

/// 2nd SUNAI ACT ///

"The Muslims on the one hand, they understand that the government's trying very much to bring normalcy to southern provinces, but on the other hand, they also see the government appear to be insensitive and overly violent."

/// END ACT ///

The trial of the four suspected Muslim leaders will be the first legal effort to bring justice to the victims of the unrest. The four have been charged with treason, and could face the death penalty.

/// OPT ///

Mr. Sunai says the trial will be a test case.

/// 3rd SUNAI ACT ///

"If the government can prove it, then it may be a new chapter in fighting violence in southern Thailand. But if it falls back to previous categories of summary arrests, false confessions and torture during detention, then it will further deteriorate the situation, the anger and frustration among the Muslims population against the government."

/// END ACT ///

/// END OPT ///

Prime Minister Thaksin said Sunday the government is on track to solve the problem. He says the security forces are chasing dozens of suspected militants, and the campaign will make it harder for the militants to mount further attacks. (Signed)

NEB/HK/HB/BK



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