Thai teachers in the line of fire

Teachers demand protection after spate of deadly attacks in troubled south.

    The attack on Juling Pangamoon highlighted
    the danger faced by teachers in the south
    A teacher shot dead on her way to school in southern Thailand has become the latest victim of the country's Muslim rebellion.

    Zaina Yamamae, herself a Muslim who taught at a government-run school in Pattani province, was travelling in a minibus when a gunman on the back seat of a motorcycle opened fire with a pistol, police say.

    The violence plaguing Thailand's south has left nearly 2,000 people dead over the past two years - more than 60 of them teachers.

    In a region where there is historic mistrust on both sides, teachers have tended to be seen by separatist rebels as symbols of the Thai authorities.

    One teacher in particular, Juling Pangamoon, a Buddhist, has become the public face of the brutality.

    She was badly beaten in a school hostage drama last May and her skull shattered. After eight months in a coma her life support system was switched off on Monday.

    More than 2,000 people have died in attacks
    across the south over the past two years
    The brutal attack shocked much of the country and her case was highlighted by Thailand’s influential royal family.

    In response teachers unions are pressing the government in Bangkok to provide them with better protection.

    "Since the coup the situation in the south is getting worse and we're worried about that," says Sanguan Intarak, president of the Teachers' Federation of Narathiwat, one of four southern provinces hit by the violence.

    It is a worry for the teachers, he says, but also for the students, and he wants to see protection for them both.

    On Wednesday teachers' representatives spelled out their demands to the Surayud Chulanont, the interim prime minister in high level talks with dozens of agencies involved in trying to find a solution.

    Their demands included a call for hostage survival and weapons training in the event of a classroom attack.

    They also want round-the-clock protection, not just a military escort to and from their school, and for troop numbers to be increased from the 20,000 already stationed in the south.

    Teachers' groups have been pressing
    the government to increase protection
    And they want 'danger money' paid in recognition of their commitment, despite an ongoing threat to their lives.

    "What we want in this meeting is for the security authority to take care of teachers so that they can perform their duties regularly without interruption," Wichit Sisa-an, Thailand's education minister told Al Jazeera.

    Since taking power following September's coup, Thailand's interim prime minister has tried a peace offensive in the south, promising substantial autonomy for the Malay-speaking region, which Bangkok annexed a century ago.

    But instead ongoing attacks by rebels and counter-attacks by government forces are further escalating tensions.

    Tackling the problems of the south is a huge task facing the this interim government and it admits it has no quick-fix solution.

    The violence it had hoped would dissipate with regime change now appears more brutal than ever.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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