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Trust gap widens in the deep South

Government claims that state agencies have nothing do with the recent spike in deadly attacks are simply not believed by local residents

Lt-General Paradon Pattanatabut, secretary general of the National Security Council (NSC), says the recent attacks by insurgents in the heart of Yala stemmed from the change of Fourth Army Area commander. Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha provided a different explanation for the timing of the attacks.

Prayuth maintained that the change of commander had nothing to do with the attacks, which included a car bomb that wiped out nearly an entire block of shophouses in what had been designated a "safe zone".

Sunday's blast killed one person, a Muslim, and injured about 20 others, four seriously.

Prayuth said the insurgents were bent on driving the Buddhists out of this highly contested region, where about 90 per cent of the population is Muslim of Malay ethnicity.

On Monday morning a warehouse less than a kilometre from the Sirindhorn Military Camp was burned to the ground. Together, all these incidents are a reminder of what the security apparatus is up against.

Paradon also suggested that the suspended peace talks might be a factor, adding that the country's unstable political situation had affected attempts to solve the problems in the three southernmost provinces. However, he failed to mention that the people he had been meeting for those talks have no influence over the active insurgents, which perhaps helps explain why the violence has continued unabated.

Others have suggested that the latest attacks were related to the anniversary of the birth of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), one of the long-standing separatist groups.

The spike has everybody guessing as to its cause. But we needn't dig too deep to see the glaring contradictions among the various explanations.

For example, blaming it on the Muslim insurgents' determination to chase out ethnic Thai Buddhists is an old scare tactic. This blanket excuse is bogus but convenient, rolled out to explain the recent violence against "soft" targets such as women, a monk and a six-year-old boy, and the February 3 "revenge" murder of three Muslim boys by two paramilitary rangers in Narathiwat's Bacho district.

It took the authorities a month to produce two suspects in the latter case, both of whom are Muslims from the region. The third is said to be a Buddhist in the military.

The official line is that the February 3 slaying of the three boys in Bacho was personal in nature - a feud between two Muslim families. The logic of this explanation would be challenged, of course, if the third suspect were confirmed as a Buddhist.

There was also the shooting death of an elderly couple on February 22 in the Yala village of Bannang Kuwae by, according to several accounts, a death squad led by a local Muslim defence volunteer, under the directive of the governor and district chiefs.

Rumours pin the incident on a man who happened to be out on bail after being charged with murder. The same official explanations are being used - that state agencies had nothing do with the killings and that the killers acted on their own. Local Muslims killing local Muslims, the government would claim.

But what the authorities are failing to say is that the Muslim suspects are part of the state security apparatus and that no one in this region believes that they acted without a green light from above. The trust gap between the Malay minorities and the Thai state is wider than ever.


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