Thailand Jihad Update. By Rungrawee C. Pinyorat for Associated Press:
YALA, Thailand — Thailand’s Muslim insurgency has prompted hundreds of Buddhists to flee their homes in the restive south, creating refugee-like communities of Thais in their own country.
So far, the migration is limited to a handful of villages, but it has alarmed Thai authorities who fear the daily violence of the three-year-old rebellion could provoke a larger Buddhist exodus and leave the three southern provinces exclusively
Buddhist monks have been beheaded, Buddhist teachers slain, and leaflets distributed around Buddhist villages warning that raising dogs and drinking alcohol are offensive to Muslims.
Buddhist monks in one province have halted their alms-seeking rituals after coming under fire, and some Buddhist temples have become military barracks and heavily guarded fortresses.
Suspicions are growing that some of the shadowy groups behind the violence see Buddhists as “infidels” and want them gone. A leaflet which the military says was distributed among Muslim villages called for a separate Islamic state and compared the south to “Palestine and Afghanistan.”
“Increasingly, insurgent violence is being used to scare away Buddhists and keep Muslims under control,” said a recent statement by the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.
High-level officials have paid morale-boosting visits to the displaced Buddhists and Queen Sirikit has funded construction of a dozen heavily guarded Buddhist safe havens in the three provinces for villagers fleeing Muslim-dominated villages.
Authorities have pledged to guarantee the safety of Buddhists and are encouraging them to learn to use firearms, but have issued no detailed plan of action.
Buddhists are 90 percent of Thailand’s 65 million people but are a minority of 360,000 among 1.3 million Muslims in the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani. Here, insurgencies have waxed and waned over various Muslim grievances since the once independent Malay sultanate was annexed by Thailand about a century ago.
The latest round began in January 2004 and has claimed more than 1,800 lives. They include soldiers, civil servants and innocent bystanders. Unofficial statistics show that more than 900 of the dead were Muslims, most of them killed as alleged government
collaborators. There are no official figures on how many have left their homes, though at least some of them are Muslims.
The Buddhists feel targeted simply for being Buddhists.
“Buddhists don’t feel safe anymore because they know insurgents want them out,” said Srisompop Chitphiromsri, a professor at the Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani who researches the insurgency. “If people are being killed in their homes and in their
communities they have one choice: That’s to move away.”
The leaflet obtained from security forces was signed by the “Islamic Warriors of Pattani State” and said the south should be Muslim-only.
“This land must be liberated and ruled by Islamic Law. This land does not belong to Thailand,” it said. “This is a land of war that is no different from Palestine and Afghanistan … Muslims and nonbelievers have to live separately.”
Many are too poor to move, and there have been no mass migrations, Srisompop said.
The nation is closely watching Niwej Sankharam, a Buddhist temple in Yala city, now a safe house for some 230 Buddhists, with teachers being brought in to teach the children
in monks’ residence halls.
The Buddhists fled here beginning Nov. 9 after attacks on their two remote mountainous villages, which are now empty.
On Oct. 22 five monks in Narathiwat province were wounded during their morning alms walk when a bomb killed two of their military escorts. Shortly afterward, all 300 monks living at the province’s 78 temples decided to forgo the traditional morning ritual until their safety could be guaranteed.
One of the injured, Phra Khru Sangkarak Somchaichotiwaro, said that monks were staying put for now, but noted that if they change their mind it could herald a wider evacuation.
“If temples are abandoned,” he said, “Buddhists will be demoralized and they will leave.”