Thailand makes its mark in
blood By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK - The unprecedented scale of violence in
Thailand's south, which resulted in more than 110 deaths
on Wednesday, has placed the country's Muslim minority
in dire straits.
"We are very worried about the
situation. There is a lot of tension in the area," Niti
Hassan, president of the Council of Muslim Organizations
of Thailand, said in the aftermath of the bloodshed on
Wednesday. "People are shocked by the attacks. They
don't know who is behind it."
Most of those
killed in the fighting were assailants, whom authorities
have identified as young Thai Muslims. But equally as
troubling as the bloodshed, said Niti, is the site of
the heaviest fighting - the Kru Se Mosque in the
southern province of Pattani. More than 30 assailants
were killed there after a standoff with heavily armed
security forces at the mosque, which is held in high
regard by Thai Muslims for its historic value.
"We have learned that the security forces
attacked the mosque," Niti said of the attempt by the
government's troops to force their way into the ancient
mosque, where some of the assailants had taken cover.
The violence in Pattani was part of what
appeared to be coordinated attacks at dawn on 11 police
stations and security checkpoints in three of Thailand's
predominantly Muslim provinces, Yala, Songkhla and
Pattani. The other two provinces in the area with
substantial Muslim populations are Narathiwat and Satun.
According to Thai journalists reporting from the
south, the authorities have identified some of the
assailants as Muslim teenagers from the local
communities. "They had few guns, with some only having
knives," Supalak Ganjanakhundee of The Nation daily
newspaper told Inter Press Service.
attacks occurred, Thai television stations have been
broadcasting to the country graphic images of the scale
of the bloodshed in the provinces, which border
Malaysia, including footage of the bodies of the
assailants scattered on the ground and covered with
Estimates of the numbers killed have
reached 113, but that is expected to rise, officials
told the media. Of that number, 107 have been identified
as assailants, while five of the dead were soldiers and
two were policemen.
The government of Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra appears to be in some
discomfort after Wednesday's bloodshed, yet that has not
muted its sense of achievement at the security forces'
success in confronting the assailants with minimum
"The government sees this as a
tragic event. And we are bothered that the people who
attacked were Thai people," Jakrapob Penkair, the
government spokesman, said. "These militants
deliberately planned the attacks in 11 spots that were
symbols of government authority, and we had to respond."
But there were two areas of "progress", he
added. "We lost very few in the attacks, but they lost
Just as important, he revealed, was the
fact that the authorities "were tipped off by people in
the neighborhood" about the impending attacks. "This
reflects the faith of the people in the government's
efforts in the south."
admitted that while the assailants are "Muslim youth
from the area", the "mastermind [behind the attacks]
This week's attack has taken
to a new level the violence that for months has
punctuated the lives of people living in southern
Thailand, analysts say.
"It is more violent than
what we have witnessed in the past, particularly going
back to late 2002 when the government pulled the army
out of the south," Chris Baker, an author of books on
Thai politics and economics, explained during an
For Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior
editor and columnist for The Nation, the clashes and the
death toll that followed on Wednesday are "one of the
single biggest incidents in Thai history in the south".
And with no end in sight, he warned that worse could
follow: "With this, the conflict in the south will
change. We are moving towards a very pivotal period."
In early January, unknown assailants stormed an
army camp in the country's southern region and stole a
substantial quantity of arms, including 380 M-16 rifles,
seven rocket-propelled grenade launchers, two M-60
machine-guns and 24 pistols.
The attacks have
not ceased since then, as school buildings have been
torched and police posts hit.
Lives have not
been spared either. Soldiers, policemen, Buddhist monks
and government officials are among the estimated 70
people who have been killed by unidentified attackers
between January 4 and last weekend.
intervals, the government has pointed the finger at
various groups it claims to be responsible for the
attacks, ranging from Thai Muslim separatists, who were
once active in the south, to people linked to criminal
Even a Muslim group in the region
that has been identified by security officials as
spearheading a campaign of terror across Southeast Asia
has been named.
Bangkok, meanwhile, has put
forth theories about the involvement of Thai Muslim
separatist groups such as the Pattani United Liberation
Organization (PULO, also known as the New Pattani United
Liberation Organization). But Muslims from the south are
Their skepticism stems from the
change in PULO and other separatist groups after the
government prevailed over these groups in the 1980s.
PULO, one of the oldest southern separatist groups,
began its struggle in the early 1970s.
Muslims, who account for some 6 million of the country's
63 million population, most of whom are Buddhists, have
long complained that the Thai government has ignored
developing the southern region. They also cite
discrimination in educational opportunities, as well as
other issues that distance them from others in the
But what largely sets these Muslims
apart from the rest of the Thais is their unique
history, cultural traditions and language, which is
Yawi, a dialect of Malay. Just more than a century ago,
the five predominantly Muslim provinces belonged to the
kingdom of Pattani, which was annexed in 1902 by Siam,
as Thailand was then known.
"The Muslims will
only feel more bitter and more alienated if it is
revealed that the way the security forces responded to
the attack was excessive," said Kavi, senior editor at
The Nation. "It will only help breed new recruits for