11/25/2022, 15.30
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Tensions with the Islamic minority rise after a car bomb in Narathiwat

by Steve Suwannarat

The attack left one person dead and 30 wounded. This is another episode in a low-intensity conflict that has caused as many as 7,300 deaths over the past 20 years. Peace talks between the government and local groups resumed in 2013, but have not produced any concrete results. Thailand’s Muslims represent 4.5 per cent of the country’s population, concentrated in the south but with substantial numbers in Bangkok and the larger cities.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – A car bomb partially destroyed a police station on Tuesday in Narathiwat, a city in southern Thailand, near the border with Malaysia.

The blast killed a police officer and wounded 30 people in a predominantly Muslim area, where strong sectarian tensions go back a long way, rekindled in the last 20 years by conflicting interests, with the local and migrant communities paying the price.

The attack was the second this year. In August, a series of coordinated explosions were reported in 17 different locations, wounding seven people.

Southern Thailand has experienced a low-intensity conflict since it was annexed in 1909 by the then Kingdom of Siam, intensifying in the 1960s with the rise of pro-independence movements.

A turning point came in 2004 following deadly clashes between young Muslims and the Thai military, whose reckless actions fanned the flames of revolt. Since then, some 7,300 people have lost their lives.

While local identity politics and calls for independence or greater autonomy have played a role, the violence has been exacerbated by Thai civil and military authorities in Bangkok, who continue to maintain a semi-colonial attitude towards the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla and Yala, which sit next to northern Malaysia.

About 4.5 per cent of Thailand’s population is Muslim, mostly in the south, but with a substantial presence in Bangkok and other cities in the country’s central and northern regions.

Thailand’s Muslims have traditionally practised a generally tolerant Islam, neither too dogmatic nor excessively doctrinal, coexisting with members of other religions.

However, the repeated imposition of a state of emergency in the southern provinces has poisoned relations between local Muslims and Buddhists, who are largely immigrants from the rest of the country, employed in public services, the military, and law enforcement.

Peace talks between the government and local groups resumed in 2013, but have not yielded concrete results so far; for the Thai government, one of the issues is the lack of a clear and authoritative counterpart.

Amid tensions, poor policing in some areas, and local economic woes, the border areas, as well as the coastlines, have become a boon for smuggling, undocumented immigration, and human trafficking. This has made it also easier for extremist ideas to spread.

Like elsewhere in South-East Asia, radical Islamists and jihadis have found refuge in southern Thailand; from here, they can operate and promote their own propaganda, however foreign it might be in relation to local Islam.

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