Tension mounts in southern Thailand

More than 1000 schools have closed and some monks began evacuating their temples as tensions intensified on Wednesday between Buddhists and Muslims in southern Thailand, officials said.

    Southern provinces which are 85% Muslim

    Public schools will remain closed this week while government officials discuss ways to increase security for teachers, some of whom have reported death threats against them. 

    In recent days, three Buddhist monks have been slashed to death by machete-wielding youths on motorcycles, three policemen have been shot to death and two Muslim students slashed by machete-wielding assailants.

    Such attacks have increased in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces since the 4 January torching of 20 schools and a raid on a military armoury that left four soldiers dead. The government has blamed the attack and other violence on Muslim rebels.

    Youths detained

    Radio and television reports on Wednesday said as many as 20 youths had been detained for questioning about the killings, but none had been charged. 

    "The deadlock comes because local people don't want to give us information or tips," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters about the government's failure to arrest perpetrators of the recent violence.

    He also admitted that government agencies in the south were not cooperating in the hunt.

    "They accept that in fact there are groups causing the unrest accepting money from abroad," Thaksin said after presiding over an annual conference of the country's local leaders, including those from the south.

    "The deadlock comes because local people don't want to give us information or tips"

    Thaksin Shinawatra,
    Thai prime minister 

    According to English-language newspaper The Nation, some Buddhist monks in Narathiwat had begun to evacuate temples and were heading for safer places outside the troubled region.

    Other clergy there and in other provinces had stopped going on their traditional morning rounds to beg for food from the
    faithful, the newspaper said. 

    Neemu Maghef, vice chairman of the Yala Province Islamic Committee, has urged Muslims to offer food to the monks, saying it would not be counter to Islamic precepts "as our gifts would be based on humanitarian aid, not religious beliefs."

    Although the southern Muslims tend to live apart from the Buddhists, relations between the two communities have generally been harmonious despite frequent criticism by Muslim leaders of the central government for treating Muslims as second-class citizens. 

    Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, with the exception of the southernmost provinces bordering Malaysia, which are 85% Muslim.

    Thaksin has said the separatists are trying to sow discord between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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