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Unease in Northern Thailand Muslim communities as Southern conflict escalates

Updated On: Aug 04, 2006

Despite intelligence information that there would be large-scale attacks by Muslim insurgents this week, and the fact that security forces were put on alert, there was nevertheless a successful terror campaign of about 70 incidents of violence in Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla.

The attacks consisted of coordinated bombings of governmental and civilian structures, road blockages and tyre-burnings. The incidents took place at about the same time, where bombs were thrown into state offices and civilian residential areas, tyre spikes were planted on many roads and tyres were burned. In Narathiwat, the Chuab Tambon Administration Organisation building, Buddhist and the Bacho Police Station were bombed, while Pattani saw police residences, mini marts, cars and phone booths being razed.

To counter the rising violence, Thaksin has commissioned army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin to manage the operations and bring peace to the conflict-ridden South. The Nation reported that Sonthi was given the difficult task after “his own men, including caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya, had failed to bring about stability in the region”. Sonthi now has power to “instruct concerned agencies on the ground and to adjust plans and strategies to deal with the worsening security situation”.

Far away in the Northeast of Thailand, the problems in the South are beginning to worry the Muslim community in Chiang Mai. The 30,000 Muslims residing there are “concerned that the bloodshed down south will infringe on their peaceful existence” especially when the authorities are beginning to scrutinize Thailand’s Muslim communities more closely.

Nitaya Wangpaiboon, a Chinese-Muslim lawyer from Chiang Mai, told Agence France Presse that “people were increasingly worried about tensions between the government and the Muslim community, but were afraid to voice these concerns”. She also believes that the government is sending spies to all of Chiang Mai’s mosques. However, this claim is strongly refuted by the Thai National Intelligence Agency.

Due to heightened suspicions, the Northern Muslims are quick to deny connections with the South. Unlike the Southern Muslims of Malay ethnicity, the Northern Muslim population comprises migrant peoples from PakistanMalaysiaMyanmarChina and India who came to Thailand centuries ago and has integrated intoThailand. Preedee Nukul, a teacher at the Ban Haw mosque told Agence France Presse, “Muslims in the North have a happy life, but in the South they have problems and we know nothing of this… The main teaching of the religion is the same thing, but the problems are separate.”

Islamic scholar Andrew Forbes says the same. “The Chinese Muslims have very little interest. Down in the south of Chiang Mai you get more Arabs, and South Asian, and it is possible there might be sympathizers.”

As the Southern conflict continues, it is likely that Thailand’s Muslim communities may feel more threatened by governmental discrimination and suspicion, whether or not they stand in solidarity with the Southern Muslims.

Sources:

Insurgents Launch More Than 25 Attacks In Three Southern Provinces (Bernama, 2 August 2006)

Sonthi to take over in South (The Nation, 2 August 2006)

South hit by 70 attacks (The Nation, 2 August 2006)

Chiang Mai Muslims fear for their lives as Islamic violence rises (AFP, 1 August 2006)