Thailand: July 25, 2004

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Thailand has applied multiple solutions to the bloody unrest among it's 3.5 million Moslems. An additional 10,000 police and soldiers have been moved into the area, making life more restrictive for the three million Malay Moslems living in three provinces along the  Malaysian border. This has also angered the smuggling gangs in the area, who make lots of money illegally moving consumer goods and drugs across the border. The gangsters are a major economic factor in the area, for there has never been much of an economic boom in the region, as there has been in the rest of Thailand over the last few decades. The relative poverty in the area is largely a result of cultural differences. The Malays, who are the majority people in the Malaysian peninsula, have always been dominated economically by more entrepreneurial Chinese or Thais.  This has caused resentment. In Malaysia, leading to laws being passed to give preference to Malays in education, government jobs and starting businesses. But the Chinese minority still dominates the economy after decades of these preferences. Malaysian Malays don't seem to mind as long as the economy continues to grow, and the Chinese and other non-Malay entrepreneurs see to that. But southern Thailand became an economic backwater, while business boomed in the rest of the country. But there was one form of foreign aid in southern Thailand. Saudi Arabian religious charities provided millions of dollars to establish and maintain religious schools. These taught young Malay Moslem Thais that their problems were the result of infidel efforts to destroy Islam, and that devout Moslems should strike back. This energized hundreds of young Moslem Thais to violence. The government has, since its crackdown of the last few months, offered amnesty to young Moslems who were involved in the violence. Some 300 young men have accepted to far, and been sent off to several weeks of military style boot camp. This won't get them jobs, and the religious schools are still there. Also still around is the Bersatu separatist movement, and the government has been discussing what can be done to provide more autonomy. But the basic problem is economic. Without more jobs, there will continue to be lots of unemployed young men who are vulnerable to suggestions that violence will improve their situation. The government believes that solving the problems in the south will take years, probably more than a decade. In the meantime, the violence will continue.

 

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