Until recently Thailand was associated with paradise for tourists and could hardly be related to the countries facing the problem of aggressive Islamic radicals.
However, the latest news from Thailand reminds information from frontline. About 70 Islamic militants were killed in the clashes with the Army and the police. Several policemen and soldiers were killed as well.
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In the morning of April 28 the militants attacked police stations in the three provinces: Yala, Pattani and Songkhla. Then there were reports that some schools and administrative buildings, along with several Buddhist monasteries, were set on fire.
Several months earlier, in January 2004, a group of extremists attacked the military base in Narathivat. Terrorists killed 4 soldiers and stole 350 machine guns which are being used now...
After the attack on the military base, the situation in the South of Thailand became critical. People started leaving the three Southern provinces. Local officials asked the government to transfer them to some different regions. The government even allowed local teachers (they are most frequently attacked by extremists) to have guns for protecting themselves.
Radical Islamic groups are pursuing the idea of establishing independent Islamic state in the South of Thailand. The major organization uniting separatists is called Pattani United Liberation Organization.
It was established in 1968, and was not involved in terrorism until the beginning of the 1990s. Until recently, its terrorist “activity” was expressed by minor wrongdoings such as breaking windows in buses.
However, in the last 2 years Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) started practicing attacks on the authorities. Radicalization of Thai Moslems took place simultaneously with the growth of influence of radicals in Islamic world. Thailand was not an exception, although only 3.5-4 percent of Thais are Moslems.
In this regard some people can link the activity of Thai terrorists with Al-Quaeda (taking into account the fact that Osama bin Laden is very popular among Moslems in South-Eastern Asia).
However, it was Malaysia special services, not bin Laden, who backed Thai separatists. PULO has two offices abroad: one in Mecca and another in town Kelatan in Malaysia. There is information that the separatists created some more bases in Malaysia, near the border with Thailand.
The separatists’ uprising can result in devastating consequences for Thailand – a long bloody conflict where religion is involved. Judging from the global experience, there are few chances for peaceful solution of the problem for Thai authorities. Using force can result in opponents’ use of force, and the conflict of this kind can last for years…
Photo: Symbol of Pattani United Liberation Organization