Bangkok - They are high-profile members of their communities and the symbol of the reach the government based in distant Bangkok has over Thailand's deep South. And now, the teachers have become the prize target for militants out to sow chaos in the mainly-Muslim region.
Violence in the area has killed 24 teachers since January last year. There are least 10,000 teachers, many of them Buddhists, working in the three most dangerous southern provinces, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. About 360,000 Buddhists live among the 1.3 million inhabitants of the deep South.
Some 2,000 teachers in the deep South have applied for permission to carry handguns while another 2,700 have asked for transfers after the Education Ministry gave the green light for terrified instructors to move out, a senior official told reporters on July 4.
The teachers feel the guns are needed because many people have survived attacks when they shot back at the attackers.
"The morale of the teachers is low and the government won't stop them from moving out," said Education Minister Adisai Bodharamik.
In an editorial, the Bangkok Post questioned whether providing the teachers with guns is the solution to the problem.
"The pistols and the training course can, at the very best, only provide some comfort and a certain measure of security for the teachers. They are no guarantee that the teachers will be completely safe from attack by militants. On the contrary, the teachers may become more vulnerable because they will become a source of coveted weapons."
The newspaper called on the Thaksin government to do more to protect the teachers in the south. "This could mean more security personnel being dispatched to protect the teachers, or some arrangement should be made so that teachers can travel together back and forth between schools and homes under armed escort."
* Southern teachers seek hand guns for protection (The Nation, July 5)
* Teachers need better protection (Bangkok Post, July 5)