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Thứ Năm, tháng 6 23, 2005

No. 0378

Beheadings aimed at driving Buddhists out of southern Thailand, officials say


A series of gruesome beheadings and other killings in southern Thailand are part of a campaign by Islamic separatists to scare off the minority Buddhist population and to show that they can still carry out attacks despite a government crackdown, officials said Thursday.

Suspected insurgents decapitated a man at a teashop Wednesday in one of the boldest attacks since the Muslim-majority provinces near Malaysia erupted in violence last year. It was the fifth beheading in recent weeks and apparently the first to be carried out in broad daylight.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra called an emergency meeting with security forces Thursday to discuss the continuing attacks in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat _ among the only Muslim-dominated areas in this largely Buddhist nation.

More than 880 people have been killed over the past 17 months in attacks generally blamed on the revival of a long-dormant secessionist movement.

"They (the insurgents) have been beheading innocent people to show they are still capable of creating violence," Thaksin told reporters. "They try to make (Buddhist) people scared so they will run away from the region because they want to seize the area."

He added that the insurgents had launched the attacks "out of desperation because several of their leaders have been arrested."

Thaksin's administration has been criticized for taking an overbearing approach to the unrest by posting thousands of troops and imposing martial law in the region. Muslim clerics have complained of soldiers showing disrespect for Islamic traditions in their drive to root out suspects.

But Thaksin has conceded failures in his government's handling of the south and pledged to try conciliatory means to resolve the conflict.

Maj. Gen. Thani Thawitsri, the deputy regional police commander for the southern provinces, said the beheadings had become a pattern and that they were intended "to create chaos and scare people away from the region."

He said it remained unclear whether the Thai separatists were trying to imitate Iraqi insurgents, who have beheaded several foreign hostages since the U.S. invasion of their country two years ago, because there is a history of such killings in Thailand.

In 1969, two female Western missionaries were decapitated on a mountain in Narathiwat province that was a stronghold for Muslim separatists at the time, he noted.

Muslim separatists waged a low-level campaign in the southern provinces for decades before largely dispersing after a government amnesty in the 1980s.

Southern Thai Muslims have long complained of discrimination, particularly in jobs and education.

Abdulraman Abdulsamad, chairman of the Islamic Council of Narathiwat, said the beheadings had sparked fear among local people and threatened to turn the region into a "ghost town."

"I cannot say who is the real culprit of this brutal killing," he said. "When you talk to local people, they believe the authorities did it. But when we talk to authorities, they say the terrorists did it."
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