01/18/2006, 00.00
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Mastermind of southern violence identified, two people killed

The revolt in the Muslim majority provinces has claimed two more lives; the state of emergency has been extended. Security forces of South-East Asia claim they have identified the mastermind responsible for the past two years of violence.

Narathiwat (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Violence in southern Thailand claimed another two victims while South-East Asian security forces said they have identified the man behind the clashes which have plagued the zone for two years.

Police said a 65-year-old man, Prom Suwanro, was killed yesterday evening by two presumed Islamic militants as he was returning home by motorcycle in Narathiwat. Islamic militants are also suspected to be behind this morning's murder in the neighbouring province of Yala: the victim was a 23-year-old policeman who was gunned down. Also in Yala, a bomb exploded, injuring three escort soldiers and a group of teachers.

Violence in Thailand's Muslim-dominated southern provinces dates back to 4 January 2004, when a group of Islamic militants raided an arms depot in Narathiwat, on the border with Malaysia. Since then more than 1,100 people have been killed in a struggle born of organized crime, local corruption and Islamic extremism, which aims for independence from the rest of the Buddhist-majority country.
Meanwhile, South-East Asian security forces say they have identified 50-year-old Shafie Mansor as the man behind the bloody guerrilla conflict between militants and the army. He is a teacher of a religious school, elusive, and the leader of the largest separatist armed group in the south, the National Revolutionary Front-Coordinate, or BRN-C.

According to security sources, the BRN-C has close to 2,000 members; it has a high degree of organisation and enjoys widespread appeal among Muslims in the area. It differs from other groups active in the region, like the Jemaah Islamiah, in that its aims are limited to obtaining independence and not to set up one big Islamic state which unites Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern islands of the Philippines.

The information on Shafie and the activities of BRN-C were obtained by security officials after months of investigation and interrogation of detained suspected militants and Thai Muslims seeking shelter in northern Malaysia.

Only yesterday, rumours abounded, and were swiftly denied – of the repatriation of 131 refugees. The matter provoked a diplomatic crisis between the two neighbouring countries. Malaysia – a Muslim majority country – did not want to proceed with forced repatriation, especially without guarantees for the refugees' safety. Kuala Lumpur has expressed disappointment with the harsh methods adopted by the Thai government to suppress the revolt. Bangkok, meanwhile, suspects the rebels cross the border to avoid arrest.

Yesterday, the state of emergency declared in July for the southern provinces was prolonged by two months. This allows the military to carry out summary arrests of suspected militants and guarantees them immunity.

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See also
Bomb kills three Buddhists in Thai Muslim south
Two killed as Thailand marks anniversary of southern unrest
Separatist violence flares up again in the south
Chinese police defend massacre of “terrorists” in Xinjiang
Catholic music to promote dialogue in Ambon, the city of sectarian violence
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