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Education is middle path to peace in South

The No 1 priority for reforms should be eradicating misinformation and promoting better understanding of the troubles in Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Songkhla.

More autonomy and local authority would help end the crisis of confidence in the deep South. More than 90 per cent of Thailand's 65 million people are Buddhists and many within the country's Muslim minority have long complained of discrimination, especially regarding civil rights and "equal opportunities" in employment. Muslims residing in the far South share similarities with Malays across the border in religion, culture, dress, food and language.

The new generation of village-based militant extremists, often referring to themselves as freedom fighters (pejuang), has been attempting to divide society along ethnic and religious lines by playing on mistrust between Buddhists and Muslims. According to Human Rights Watch, attacks on teachers and the torching of schools by separatist insurgents have terrorised and intimidated the local populace and prevented children from enjoying their constitutionally guaranteed rights to quality education. During the past eight years, violent attacks have increased in frequency, resulting in more than 4,500 orphaned children and 3,000 widowed mothers.

Tainted by crackdown abuses, draconian emergency decrees, extrajudicial killings and iron-fisted rights violations, authorities have made feeble attempts to institute policy reforms in order to help make the predominantly small, rural community schools safer. Meanwhile they also fail to offer adequate protection for dedicated teachers, whose commitment to child-focused learning for each and every student remains unwavering.

Local administrative bodies should be given increased autonomy and authority to determine what works best for their village. Curriculum reform that demonstrates respect for the Rumi language and dignity for Muslim traditions and customs is long overdue, hopefully leading to a fair-minded, locally negotiated settlement rather than a Bangkok-centric imposed military solution.

Charles Frederickson


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