06/23/2009, 00.00
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Thailand, separatist fighters recruited in Islamic schools

The militants play on Malay nationalism and the sense of belonging to the old sultanate on the border between Thailand and Malaysia. The fighters do not have links with international fundamentalist groups, instead operating on a local level. Yesterday a command targeted a Buddhist temple in Narathiwat province, injuring eight people.

Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Muslim separatists in the south of the country recruit new fighters in the Islamic schools, in efforts to raise the level of confrontation with the Thai government and the army. The alarm was raised by a report published yesterday on studies carried out by the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG) that states that recent attacks in the provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani are part of a separatist struggle and are not linked to other Islamic terrorist groups on a regional or international level.

Yesterday, an armed commando opened fire in a Buddhist temple in the province of Narathiwat in southern Thailand, injuring eight people. A government officer reports that the prompt response of security guards prevented more injuries or deaths. The attack on the temple, which was also used as a small camp by the military, is the latest in a long series of violence that in five years has caused the death of about 3700 people. Until the last century, the region on the border between Thailand and Malaysia was an independent Malay Muslim sultanate.  The annexation of the ‘land of the elephant’ has given birth to a separatist struggle.

According to the study prepared by ICG experts the Muslim separatists are seeking guerrillas and playing on Malay nationalism and the sense of belonging to the old sultanate. "They tell the students of the [Muslim] schools that it is the duty of every Muslim to reclaim their land from Buddhist infidels" refers Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, ICG analyst for Thailand. The report defines the classes as "the first collection point” for fighters, who invite young Muslims to follow extra-curricular courses of indoctrination in the mosques.

The Thai government in recent weeks has focused attention on schools in the South, promoting better education and more opportunities for professional employment. The Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva considers education a "key weapon" in the fight against Muslim separatism.

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