Gosh! Really? From AP:
THANNAM THIP, Thailand: A shallow river, deep jungles and an old 20-kilometer (12-mile) wall mark the divide not just between Thailand and Malaysia but between Southeast Asia’s Muslim and Buddhist worlds.
This ragged stretch of border is being viewed by some as a potential front in the Muslim insurgency wracking southern Thailand, mysterious in its goals and undeterred either by government crackdowns or by peace overtures.
People on both sides of the border share ethnicity, language and religion “” Islam. Muslim-run soup restaurants on the Malaysian side are suspected of being funding sources for the rebels, and this has become an irritant in relations between two countries that are mainstays of the Southeast Asian alliance.
Islamic radicals around the world are increasingly setting their sights on the insurgency. An Arab Web site appeared in January, dedicated exclusively to southern Thailand and believed the first of its kind. Couched in Islamic rhetoric, the site backs independence for southern Thais.
“Basically the southern Thailand conflict is becoming more regionalized. But we are at the very early stage of it,” says Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore and wrote “Inside al-Qaida: Global Network of Terror.” Islamic militancy is spreading in Southeast Asia, he says, and “What is happening in Thailand will not be an exception.”
Others disagree, likening the insurgency to the Muslim uprising in Indonesia’s Aceh province, which shunned foreign help and was resolved with U.N. mediation.
“They are fighting for a separate state so they don’t want one which is going to be run by outsiders,” says a Western official in Bangkok who is knowledgeable about anti-terrorism efforts and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The insurgents, according to the Thai military, number 3,000 to 5,000, with some 10,000 to 12,000 sympathizers out of a Muslim population of 3 million in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani which border Malaysia. They are secretive, brutal, effective. “We don’t know when or where they will attack next,” says Col. Wichai Thongdaeng, an army spokesman in the south.
An independent sultanate until it was merged into Thailand a century ago, the southern provinces have seen rebellions come and go. In the latest, which began in early 2004, the rebels have torched schools, bombed banks, beheaded some 25 people and shot teachers, policemen, government officials and just ordinary citizens. More than half the victims have been Muslims suspected of collaborating with authorities “” teachers, civil servants, policemen.
In one recent incident, says army Lt. Jenkila Somboon, three Muslim rubber tappers were shot to death because their village was getting too friendly with the soldiers.
“If you go to work, we will kill you cruelly. We will wait for you 24 hours a day, follow you wherever you go,” said one recent leaflet obtained by The AP, ordering Buddhists in one area to leave within three days. It’s not known whether they left, but the insurgency has already displaced hundreds of villagers.
International Risk, a Hong Kong-based consultancy, calls the insurgency the world’s “new terrorism front line,” but its shadowy nature accounts in part for the differing assessments of outside involvement.