From The Times
April 29, 2004
Troops crush militants in Thai uprising
From Andrew Drummond in Bangkok
THAI troops killed 34 militants who had hidden in a mosque yesterday during the bloodiest day of violence in 30 years of unrest in the south of the country.
Across the region, in the mainly Muslim southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Songkhla, 132 mostly teenage Muslims, many wearing green or black uniforms with red headscarves, were killed, plus two soldiers and three policemen, after a day of fighting that began when militants staged dawn attacks on military bases and police buildings.
The Government braced itself for a widespread backlash, amid claims that security forces had adopted a 'shoot-to-kill' policy against local youths armed with little more than machetes.
Troops fired rocket-propelled grenades and teargas into the Krue Sae Mosque in Pattani province in an attempt to flush out the teenage 'rebel' forces who had taken refuge there. None of those who took shelter in the mosque, which is close to the Malaysian border, were believed to have survived the siege.
Elsewhere in the southern provinces, which have close cultural and religious ties to neighbouring Malaysia, many of the dead were seen to have been shot in the head, apparently at close range.
The Thai Army contended that the raids were mounted to seize weapons for an insurgency that has gathered pace since January. 'Their intention was to secure arms,' Major Chitnart Bunnothok, the Thai 4th Army spokesman, said.
Only one prisoner was taken, despite reports that many of the casualties had been killed by police who had been tipped off about impending raids and had lain in wait for the insurgents.
The dead were filmed being thrown into lorries and taken away by the army. Television footage showed one man who appeared to have been shot dead while in a kneeling position.
Another body had a green T-shirt carrying an Arabic inscription and the initials 'JI' ' believed to be the acronym for Jemaah Islamiah, a group in South-East Asia linked to al-Qaeda.
The region has endured a low-key Muslim insurgency since the 1970s, but Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai Prime Minister, insisted yesterday that the upsurge in violence was driven by drug-dealing and organised crime, not religious conflict.
'We will uproot them, depriving them of the chance to allude to issues of separatism and religion.
In the end they are all bandits,' he said.
The Government has refused to acknowledge that it has a problem of Islamic fundamentalism within its borders, despite simmering violence in the Muslim southern provinces.
Critics argue that the unrest has been sustained by the Government's treatment of southerners as second-class citizens.
The violence has escalated sharply since January, when insurgents raided a Thai army base, killed four soldiers and emptied the armoury.
Schools have been set alight across the region and at least 65 policemen, army and government officials and civil servants have been killed in the past three months.
Despite attempts by the Government to portray the insurgency as a cynical bid by drug-dealers to foment latent religious tensions for financial gain, many commentators acknowledge deeply rooted internecine violence.
Bhukoree Yeema, a political scientist, said: 'If the Government does not provide a clear-cut explanation, there will be massive repercussions in the Muslim community.'
'Those who died must have believed they were dying for their religion. They must have an ideology beyond separatism, otherwise why would they attack with their bare hands and swords?' Ahmad Somboon Bualang, of the local Prince of Songkla University, said.
Chuan Leekpai, the former Democratic Prime Minister, said: 'There must be an immediate and full enquiry into why this is happening.'
The Thai Government has not admitted to a 'shoot-to-kill' policy, but it is noted for its severe police tactics. About 2,500 people were shot dead last year in an anti-drugs drive.
In January 2000, when Burmese insurgents from 'God's Army', a rebel force from the minority Karen community in Burma commanded by the charismatic 12-year-old Hoo twins, seized control of a hospital in Ratchaburi, eastern Thailand, the Thai Army acted in and killed them all.