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Poverty in Thailand Blamed for Unrest in Muslim South


In Thailand, a special commission on the violence in the Muslim-dominated south says that separatism and religious extremism are aggravating the strife but that the root causes are poverty, alienation and government neglect.

The National Reconciliation Commission Monday presented its report on the violence in Thailand's southernmost provinces. The almost daily bombings and drive-by shootings by alleged Muslim separatists have killed 1,300 people in the past two and a half years.

The chairman of the commission, former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, says the root causes - poverty, injustice and a lack of good schools - are common throughout Thailand. But he says the situation in the south has been aggravated by differences in religion, ethnicity, language and the interpretation of history.

"It is not a conflict of religion and it is not a separatist issue. [But] definitely, those two issues have been exploited to advance their [the attackers'] political concerns. But they're not the root causes," he said.

Southern Thailand was an independent Muslim sultanate until it was annexed a century ago by the government in Bangkok. Deep local resentments against the Buddhist-dominated central government erupted into violence in early 2004.

The government one year later appointed the 50-member panel of leaders from across Thai society to investigate the root causes of the violence and present recommendations on ending it.

The commission on Monday recommended the creation of several councils to address reconciliation, economic development and local grievances.

Commission Chairman Anand says government policies have not succeeded in addressing the grievances of the south.

"So long as there is still a deep mistrust of the government, of the government officers, of the government machineries, you will not get the cooperation that you need from the people in the area, in the villages," added Anand.

The Thai government has sought to address the resentments through job and development programs. But it has also vowed to punish the attackers.

Human rights groups have accused security forces of using excessive force in quelling several uprisings and of being behind dozens of disappearances of Muslim leaders in the region.

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