Violence in Restive South Fuels Fear and Mistrust

August 6, 2006

Source: BBC News

On August 6, 2006 BBC News reported, "Thailand's far south is caught up in a separatist insurgency that has claimed the lives of 1,300 people in less than three years. In the first of a series of articles from the region, the BBC's Kate McGeown looks at how the violence is affecting local people... The provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala have little in common with the rest of Thailand. They seem a world away from the well-known tourist beaches of Phuket and Samui, just up the coast, which are full of resorts packed with scantily-clad Westerners partying the nights away.

In the far south, most of the women wear headscarves, few people drink alcohol and school children are as likely to learn Arabic as they are English.

In fact the ethnic Malay people who make up more than 80% of this region have far more in common with people across the border in Malaysia than they do with other Thais - and this is the source of many of the area's problems. Insurgent groups calling for the emergence of a separate Islamic state first emerged in the 1970s.

Fuelled by high levels of poverty, corruption and local gang violence, these groups have returned in recent years with more ferocity than ever.

Many victims have been members of the Thai military and police, but ordinary Buddhist villagers are also frequent targets.

Yoon Yeunchon, the chief of Sae Khaow, a Buddhist village in the heart of Muslim-majority Narathiwat, says that staying safe is a daily struggle.

He is not exaggerating - last year seven villagers were attacked, three of whom died."