Sunday, February 25, 2007

Breakdown in Thailand

[posted by Callimachus]

This New York Times story on the Muslim insurgency in Thailand is as tragic as it is grim.

PATTANI, Thailand — Some are already calling it war, a brutal Muslim separatist insurgency in southern Thailand that has taken as many as 2,000 lives in three years with almost daily bombings, drive-by shootings, arson and beheadings.

It is a conflict the government admits it is losing. A harsh crackdown and martial law in recent years seem only to have fueled the insurgency by generating fear and anger and undermining moderate Muslim voices.

A new policy of conciliation in the past four months has been met by increased violence, including a barrage of 28 coordinated bombings in the south that killed or wounded about 60 people on Feb. 18.

"The momentum of violence is now beyond the control of government policy," said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political scientist at Prince of Songkhla University here.
"The separatists can pick and choose the time and place of the violence without any effective resistance from the government," he said. "They have the upper hand."

Now the insurgents seem to be taking their war to a new stage, pitting local Buddhists against Muslims by attacking symbols of Buddhism with flamboyant brutality.
The two religions had coexisted through the years here, often in separate villages. This mutual tolerance is breaking down now, and there are fears of a sectarian conflict that could flare out of control.

"Buddhist monks, temples, novices," said Sunai Phasuk, a political analyst with the monitoring group Human Rights Watch. "Buddhist monks have been hacked to death, clubbed to death, bombed and burned to death. This has never happened before. This is a new aspect of violence in the south."

In another new development, said Francesca Lawe-Davies, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, some remote areas had become, in effect, off limits for the police or military, at least temporarily and perhaps permanently.

"It appears in the last year or so that insurgent groups are actually starting to control territory in a more conventional sense," she said.

Tragic that yet another community where diverse religions have shared the space for generations is being methodically, deliberately stripped apart alive. The grim news is that al Qaida soon will have another province-wide "safe haven" at this rate. And that nothing -- neither aggressive action or appeasement -- seems to be able to turn that around.

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