11/30/2004, 00.00
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Religions together for peace in southern Thailand

Southern Muslims denounce incitement by foreign-trained imams.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists are working together to end the violence that broke out in southern Thailand after the death on October 28 of 81 Muslims in Tak Bai. Local Muslim leaders have also denounced foreign-trained preachers who have come back to the region to incite people to violence.

In recent days, a meeting of several religious leaders was held in Bangkok to find ways to end the violence that is tearing apart predominantly Muslim southern Thailand: among those attending were Fr. Chusak Sirisuth, director of the Research Institute on Religion and Culture of Nakhon Pathos, Witaya Wisatrat, a member of the Muslim Council in Thailand and Pornthip Phonwanfai of the Buddhist network for Buddhism and Thai Society.

Mr Witaya, a Muslim member of the Thai senate, visited the south to investigate what happened at Tak Bai Police Station. He said that "some people are not satisfied with the official version of events. In my opinion, only truth will help solve the problem and to hide it is to cause more violence".

The Thai government promised to set up a commission of inquiry to find out what happened at Tak Bai, but for Senator Witaya it is necessary to have "a truly free press" and "fight for ethics in the communications field".

According to the Muslim leader, religious leaders can play an important role in pacifying the region. "Religious leaders should make clear to their believers how to practice the teachings of their faith."

Father Chusak shared with the other participants the information priests and women religious provided him. A priest in Betong said that things were a little better, but the situation was still not very good. There has been some unrest and people are staying away from one another unwilling to help each other."

Some nuns in Chorensri spoke of their fears, because "many innocent people have been killed". Instead, "we need to counter violence with love, understanding and forgiveness," they said. Still, one sister in a Catholic school added "that threatening leaflets have been passed around and 20 of our pupils have dropped out of school afraid to come".

Despite the recent inter-religious violence, religious leaders are still hopeful that coexistence and mutual support are possible. For a Muslim leader, "it is impossible to think that Buddhists and Muslims cannot get along. We have lived peacefully together for a long time".

Among many southern Muslims, there is growing concern that foreign-trained imams are exploiting the tense situation to incite young Muslims to engage in violence against the government.

Razalee Kayamat, the village chief of Kayahmati, said that foreign-trained, extremist preachers returning from Indonesia, Pakistan and Libya are going around spreading lies among the youths". (WK)

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