Thailand: May 19, 2005


Violent attacks by Islamist insurgents in five mostly Moslem southern provinces of Thailand have become an almost daily occurrence. Most of the attacks have been aimed at government officials, military personnel, and teachers, as the Islamists are opposed to any secular education. Schools as well as government offices and military establishments are frequent targets. On a weekly basis, casualties seem to be averaging some 5-8 dead and a score or so wounded. The Thai government is trying to address the problem in a variety of ways, including strengthening military presence, providing economic development, and reaching out to more moderate Moslems, though this latter makes them targets of the Islamists' wrath. As is the case in other countries, the violence is not completely caused by Islamic radicalism. The religious angle is being used because of the huge play the international media have given al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism. But in southern Thailand, the main problem is economic (the area has fallen behind the rest of the country) and ethnic (the people in these five provinces are ethnic Malay and Moslem, rather than ethnic Thai and Buddhist like the majority of Thais. The different languages, customs and appearance have built resentments for generations, along with an outlaw mentality that has created smuggling and other criminal gangs. So you have a lot of young people who are angry, have weapons and are comfortable using them, and breaking the law in general. 


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