Bangkok – Only last year, Yala, one of Thailand’s southernmost provinces, was feted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as the “city of peace”. But today, Yala is a pale shadow of its former self, with more than 10,000 people having fled the city over the past year due to continuing violence.
In the latest violence on May 27, suspected separatist militants shot dead three people, including a deputy village headman, and wounded two others in Yala.
Mr Pongsak Yingchoncharoen, mayor of the Yala municipality, said people had lost confidence in the safety of their lives and property after an arms raid at a military camp in Narathiwat on Jan 4 last year. The robbery triggered an Islamic separatist insurgency in Thailand’s Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani bordering Malaysia.
According to the latest census, Yala, which had a population of 77,000 in March last year, now has only 65,000 residents. Among those who had left were children sent to safer environments by their rich entrepreneur parents, and migrant traders and workers who moved back to their hometown.
“We haven’t experienced a mass exodus like this before,” Mr Pongsak said. “Yala is the most liveable city with clean air and parks where one can exercise. There is no other factor except the current unrest.”
The migration is having a negative effect on Yala. Municipal tax collection is down, the real estate business has been hit, and many small-scale businesses have closed down.
Unesco last year cited Yala for honourable mention in its 2002-2003 Cities for Peace prize, due to its outstanding work in reducing violence and projects that promoted public participation, a green environment and child development.
* Rebels cause havoc in Yala (Bangkok Post, May 29)
* Violence in once-peaceful Yala province sends 12,000 fleeing (The Straits Times, May 28)
* 10,000 people flee city of peace in fear of lives (Bangkok Post, May 27)