Thai Rebel Tactic: Divide the Faiths

July 20, 2005

Author: Simon Montlake

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

Somjit Sangsanan remembers when a good night out in her village meant piling into a friend's pickup truck and going to town for a movie or a concert.

Not any more. Now everyone in her rural community of Buddhist farmers and government workers turns in by 8 p.m. and nobody ventures out at night, especially not alone.

Caught in the crossfire of a separatist insurgency that sees civilians as soft targets, Buddhist villagers in this Muslim-dominated area of Thailand are retreating from those they once greeted as friends and neighbors. "Before I was in touch with Muslims. I had friends in the Muslim villages and we worked together on royal community projects. Now I'm afraid to visit them," says Somjit.

The fraying of interfaith ties in southern Thailand is a byproduct of an escalating conflict that has claimed over 800 lives since last January. While political violence and guerrilla revolts have plagued this area for generations, the militants behind the latest attacks appear determined to rattle the confidence of the non-Muslim minorities.

After a series of new attacks, last Friday the Thai government declared martial law in the region, giving the prime minister sweeping powers to tap phones, ban meetings, give direct orders to security forces, and order curfews.