01/09/2004, 00.00
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Martial law proclaimed against Islamic threats in tourist area

Bangkok (AsiaNews/agencies) – National security officials declared martial law in southern Thailand, after a series of deadly attacks swept through the southern provinces of Narathiwat and Pattani. The declaration comes after Thai authorities, for the first time in decades, have openly admitted to continued hostile Islamic separatist operations in the country's Muslim-dominated areas.

The attacks came last Sunday and Monday, Jan. 4-5.

On Sunday 18 schools, one of which was a kindergarten and elementary school in Narathiwat, were set on fire as a diversion tactic for attackers raiding on a military camp in the area, stealing over 100 weapons and killing 4 soldiers. School officials were devastated. "The culprits have destroyed the future of our children," said the assistant director of the Muang Narathiwat School, whose 651 students are 95% Muslim.

The next day two bombs exploded in nearby Pattani, killing 2 police officers. The explosion followed a series of hoax-bomb threats, plaguing local police forces with several evacuation attempts and civilians with constant paranoia.

The attacks have been blamed on the local Muslim separatist group, Mujahedeen Pattani, in connection with Kampulan Mujahedeen Malaysia, which has ties to the Al-Qaeda-linked regional terror network, Jemaah Islamiah.

Ret. Gen. Kitti Rattanachaya, ex-commander of the southern Muslim-dominated provinces, said that the efficient coordination of the attacks is evidence that the attackers had "professional" assistance from well-trained Al-Qaeda-linked organizations. "I believe these groups are certainly linked…These groups were know each other very well. They were comrades-in-arms in Afghanistan," he added. 

Martial law was declared in the most affected areas of Muslim insurgence, in the Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. Martial law will permit the Thai military to conduct widespread military surveillance and raids of local streets, locales, schools, public buildings and other suspected militant targets. Yet army officials still have not enacted curfews or installed troops in major towns. However, police have already arrested 30 persons, two of which are Muslim teachers suspected of helping coordinate arson fires in schools.   

On Jan. 6 Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stated he believed the violence was the work of Islamic separatists with dual Thai-Malaysian citizenship, who could easily escape across the Malaysian border to hide out in homes of relatives and friends.

Muslim community leaders have denied any connections with the local Islamic community and have warned that Bangkok's heavy-handed reactions could drive away tourism and foreign investment in the much visited southern resort areas.

National police chief, Gen. San Sarutanon, told journalists that the militants are targeting 12 other regions, including Bangkok.

About 95% of Thailand's 60 million citizens are Buddhist; 4% percent are Muslim, most of which live in the south, around the Pattani province. About 80% of these Muslims are of ethnic Malay descent. (MS)  

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See also
Over 100 dead in clashes between Muslim militia and police
More violence in southern Thailand
Tighter security on anniversary of separatist group’s founding
Mastermind of southern violence identified, two people killed
Dagestan, another deadly attack on Muslim religious authorities


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