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Moves to quell anger over Trang incident

Apology offered after PDRC protesters sought to close school by mosque; drama may have led to attack by insurgents

Moves were underway in Trang yesterday to try to ease tension after anti-government protesters tried to close a school adjacent to a mosque in Palian district.

Central Islamic Committee of Thailand (CICOT) member Somsak Phitsuwan visited the Su So community, where 300 supporters of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) showed up on Monday.

The protesters arrived when Muslim students were attending classes at Islamic Ismailiyah Foundation School and some students and members of the public were praying at the Su So Mosque in the same compound.

The protesters called for the school to close in a bid to get people to join their protest against the government. Some reportedly appeared to be drunk and some allegedly fired gunshots into the sky.

Somsak said information he got from local sources was different from news reports. He said Buddhist and Islamic Thais still lived together normally and understood what happened. He was told that protesters tried to get the school to suspend classes to join their "civil disobedience" campaign, but the entrance to the school and the mosque was the same. He said the protesters did not mean to close the mosque or obstruct prayers or cause offence. He urged the media to be careful in reporting such sensitive matters and said he would report the facts he gathered to CICOT.

Wira Charoenrit, Trang Islamic Council deputy chairperson, said the protest leaders submitted a letter of apology to the school and mosque so he suggested that they meet the Chularatchamontri to explain facts and issue a statement to reduce tension.

The Trang Islamic Council hosted a press conference at the City Hall at 10 am yesterday about the incident and said that the protesters did not mean to surround the mosque but wanted to go to the school, located 30 metres away in the same compound.

The council urged people not to use the incident to create more conflict or misunderstanding for political gain. It also urged the protesters - on all sides - to be careful and avoid religious sites, to avoid misunderstanding as in this case. They said they would send a letter of explanation to the Office of the Chularatchamontri and 39 other provincial Islamic councils about what happened.

Student and protest leader, Preepramote Lertworapat, who attended the press conference, apologised to the councillors about what happened - which the councillors gladly accepted.

Meanwhile, Commander of Army region 4, Lt Gen Sakol Chuentrakool went to Songkhla to meet Chularatchamontri Aziz Pitakkhumpol.

As the apology was made publicly and accepted, Sakol said the spiritual leader urged that the case not be blown out of proportion and to end. Sakol met later in the afternoon with religious leaders in Muang district in Pattani to try to quell any controversy.

A source at the Internal Security Operations Command in Region 4 revealed Sakol feared separatists may try to stir up discontent over this matter via leaflets. It was suspected that a gun attack on Friday in which an army ranger and a monk were killed may have stemmed from this controversy.

In related news, Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order spokesperson Sunisa Lertpakawat urged anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban to apologise to all Thai Muslims about what happened in Trang.

She said Suthep should submit an apology to the Office of the Chularatchamontri, as well as talk to local religious leaders and listen to the demands of those affected. She also urged Suthep to keep the protesters in check so that they don't violate others' religious rights.


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