11/03/2004, 00.00
THAILAND
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Commission of enquiry to investigate Takbai tragedy

Violence in the south is affecting the tourism industry and the security of neighbouring countries.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Yesterday, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that he was setting up a commission of enquiry into the October 25 clashes between Muslim demonstrators and the army that took place in Takbai, in the southern province of Narathiwast. The demonstration ended in the tragic death of 85 protesters. Vengeance was quick; a Buddhist village leader was decapitated in the same region soon after.

Thais are growing increasingly weary of the situation and its impact. Clashes and insecurity are threatening the already fragile tourism industry. Following the recent violent outbursts, Malaysia advised its citizens to avoid travelling to southern Thailand.

The tragic turn of events in Takbai is also worrying Thailand's neighbours in other ways. In Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, people are concerned that any religious interpretation of the Takbai affair might lead to inter-communal strife within its own borders.

Indonesian sources claim that in Surakarta (Central Java) an Islamic group is already threatening non Muslim Thai immigrants in response to last week's tragedy.

In a meeting with Thai ambassador Atcharara Ceriputra, Hasyim Muzadi, president of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, said that "bloodshed had nothing to do with religious sentiment". He added that it was important "for all countries in Southeast Asia to protect minority groups".

The predominantly-Muslim provinces in southern Thailand seek independence from the rest of the country, which is predominantly Buddhist. The region is poor and underdeveloped. Locals have complained about the central government's indifference vis-à-vis their needs and its incapacity to understand their traditions and culture.

For many analysts however behind the separatist banner there are criminal gangs and corrupt officials rooted in a culture of lawlessness. 

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