Pattani, Thailand – From the inside, the elementary school in Pakaharang district, near the city of Pattani in southern Thailand, looks like any normal educational institution. Children play in the courtyard or study in the classrooms.
But outside, soldiers guard the main entrance and surroundings, especially when children arrive at or leave the school. In Thailand’s deep south, where a conflict between the government and a Muslim separatist movement has killed nearly 6,000 people since 2004, being a teacher is a high-risk job. The separatists believe the government education system is oppressing Thailand’s Muslims, who make up a majority in the southernmost provinces but are a small minority in a country where Buddhists make up more than 90 percent of the population.
The insurgency has targeted educational personnel in government-run schools, and 169 teachers have been killed since January 2004. One of them was the only Buddhist teacher at Pakaharang school, who was shot dead in 2007 on a bridge close to the school. Pakaharang has been marked by the authorities as a “red zone”, due to the high number of insurgency attacks in the area.
Violence has increased in the southern provinces of Thailand over the past few weeks. The last attack aimed at teachers occurred on March 14, when a teacher was killed and set on fire in Pattani province.
Peace talks planned between the government and rebels have stalled, in large part because of the unrest and mass demonstrations that have roiled Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, for the past several months.