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Rights Group Says Southern Thais Attacked by Militants, Government


A human rights group says people in Thailand's south are caught between violent attacks by suspected Muslim separatists and an overly harsh response by Thai security forces. Amnesty International issued the report, two years after an attack on a military base reignited decades-old tensions in the region.

The human rights group Amnesty International says the Thai government has used arbitrary detention, torture, and excessive force in seeking to quell two years of violence in which more than 1,000 people have been killed.

The cycle of violence began when unidentified gunmen attacked a military base in Narathiwat province two years ago, killing four soldiers and seizing hundreds of weapons.

The Director of Amnesty International in Thailand, Boonthan Verawongse, notes that since then there have been hundreds of attacks, most of which have gone unpunished. He says the atmosphere of impunity has been aggravated by an emergency law that prevents security officials from being prosecuted for human rights violations.

"One of the big problems is regarding the question of impunity that has been stated as the main part of the amnesty decree, which the government inaugurated in July of last year. And this is one of the very big issues in the human rights violations," said Mr. Boonthan.

The Thai government blames the violence on separatists, criminals, and corrupt officials. Drive-by shootings and bombings by these groups have caused scores of deaths, many of them among security forces. But Amnesty International said the government's response has been excessively violent and called for an investigation into allegations of torture and disappearances. It also called for all detainees to be given access to lawyers, medical care and their families.

The Thai government denies it has used excessive force and says it adheres to the rule of law in trying to solve the problem. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at a news conference late last year said his government would address the lack of jobs and social services that it believes are the underlying causes of the violence.

"We will spend most of our efforts to bring the understanding and the development and the better education and employment for the majority of the people," he said.

But the Thai prime minister has also vowed to bring lawbreakers to justice.

Amnesty International's Mr. Boonthan says local residents are suspicious of the central government. "If you want peace, work for justice. If the government [officials] are sincere enough to work for peace then they have to work for justice in order to resolve the conflict," he commented.

The region was an independent sultanate until 100 years ago, when it was annexed by Bangkok. A separatist movement emerged in the 1970s and '80s, but declined under an amnesty in the 1990s. The resurgence of violence has hurt tourism and investment and caused many residents to leave.

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