11/08/2005, 00.00
THAILAND
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Church promotes Muslim-Buddhist dialogue in order to stop violence

by Weena Kowitwanij
At a conference promoted by the Episcopal Commission for Inter-faith and Cultural Dialogue, a Muslim scholar says violence in the southern part of the country is "political, not religious" in nature.

Krabi (AsiaNews) – The violence in southern Thailand is "political and not religious" in nature, and the government "must remember that Muslims and Buddhists live in peace with equal dignity", said the Toh-kru or Muslim teacher Suhthorn Simun during a conference entitled Dialogue of life with Muslims that was organised by the Episcopal Commission for Inter-religious and Cultural Dialogue in the southern province of Krabi.

In his presentation—The Muslim view towards other religions—, the scholar explained that "understanding is the most important thign for living together in a community that includes people of different religions".

"People in the village of Krabi are equally divided between Muslims and Buddhists, but they are able to live together. Mutual respect is the key element to their shared life".

The Toh-kru stressed that in "in the three southern provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, [scene of separatist violence between Muslims and Buddhists] residents are disheartened because clashes are political in nature. The right thing to do involves solving the political issues and stop using religion as a pretext. Even though we have different faiths, we live well thanks to mutual understanding. We are created equal with the same human dignity."

Simun explained that in Muslim schools, "students are taught about goodness, respect for the brothers and sisters in other religions and love of country. We do not teach about the division of the motherland".

Fr Phaisarn Arnamwat, secretary-general of the Commission, reminded those present that according to "the statements of the Second Vatican Council, Muslims are brothers with whom Christians have a common father, Abraham. Although Catholics might be few in the south, they can be an instrument for good relations among believers of all religions".

Father Arnamwat stressed that "the Commission deliberately chose to hold the conference in the south, where violence is the greatest and where destruction from the tsunami was extensive. Both phenomena must teach us as Thai people to love each other as brothers without concern for race or religion".

Pramote Pulpokpol, a Catholic and director of the Andaman Holiday Resort, said: "When I arrived here I didn't have any friends. Most residents are Muslim who live from fishing and the rubber plantation. I started out trying to understand their way of life without oppressing or bothering anyone. After a while my neighbours realised that we were bringing in tourists and creating employment," he said. "And one day some Muslims came to see me and asked my permission to pray for the development of the hotel. What matters is being friends with people from the other religions".

Krabi is part of the diocese of Surat Thani, as are 15 other provinces, including Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala. Its total population is nine million with more than 6,000 Catholics.

Mgr Joseph Prathan Sridarunsil, the local bishop, is assisted by 43 priests in 39 parishes. There are also 6 consecrated lay people and 99 religious women.

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