Bangkok - If recent history is any guide, Thailand's deep South is likely to see a sharp rise in violence during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in early October, academics say. Last year's statistics showed that insurgent attacks in the provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, were more frequent from September to November, peaking in October.
The warning came as a police source told the Bangkok Post that a small quantity of war weapons were being smuggled into Thailand through the Betong district of Yala. A source at the Police Forward Command Headquarters said that it is possible that the weapons may be used to foment trouble in Yala in October.
Political scientist Srisompob Jitpiromsri, from the Prince of Songkla University, said violence jumped in October probably because Muslims believe that during the fasting month, deeds carried out in the name of religion would be honoured.
He added that many separatist insurgents were victims of indoctrination and were misled into waging a holy war aimed at establishing an independent Islamic state.
Mr Srisompob noted that 2,441 insurgent attacks had taken place between January last year, when the unrest started, and May this year. He said while there had been fewer shootings, they had given way to deadlier bomb explosions directed at government offices and security forces. The most recent attacks also appeared to demonstrate the government's inability to control the situation.
In another development, Mr Lukman B Lima, a veteran leader of Thailand's insurgency, told the Associated Press in an exclusive interview that militants from Indonesia and Arab nations may join the fight for a separate homeland in the south if the Thai government continues a crackdown that's provoking a new generation of Muslim fighters.
Mr Lukman is the vice-president and acting head of the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), one of several groups involved in the century-old struggle to gain independence in southern Thailand.
"If the government opts to kill and kill without reason, perhaps fighters from Indonesia and Arab countries will help us because, according to Islam, real Muslims cannot just stand by when their brother Muslims are being slain," the Sweden-based exile told the news agency in Jakarta, where he was visiting.
The southern insurgency - in which more than 1,000 Muslims and Buddhists have been killed - is getting moral and financial support from abroad, especially from Islamic sympathisers in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, said Mr Lukman. But weapons have been obtained locally and wielded by Thai Muslims, he added.
"I assure you that many among the young generation are being trained to use the weapons to defend themselves. We train them in the mountains, jungles and sometimes in villages but only inside Thailand," Mr Lukman said.
Some quarters have cast doubts as to whether PULO, which was regarded as a serious threat during the 1970s and 1980s, is playing a key role in the current unrest.
Mr Lukman said PULO works "hand-in-hand" with groups involved in the fighting. While the organisation's focus is in the political arena, it also has fighters on the ground.
According to the Associated Press, it is unknown, however, to what extent Mr Lukman's comments reflect the views of the shadowy insurgent groups or how much influence he and PULO exert over rebel military operations.
* Scholars warn of rising violence (Bangkok Post, Sept 26)
* Indonesian, Arab militants may flood southern Thailand (Utusan Malaysia, Sept 24)