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Violence Rises in Thailand's South


Insurgent attacks are escalating in the south of Thailand, despite efforts by the military-installed government to end the violence. As Ron Corben in Bangkok reports, Thai intelligence reports warn of increasing attacks.

Juling Pangamoon was buried a few days ago - one of more than 64 teachers murdered since early 2004. A Buddhist, she lived in the largely Muslim southern provinces, where insurgents target teachers and government workers.

Juling died earlier this month from injuries she suffered last May, when the school where she worked was attacked. Beaten by suspected Islamic insurgents, she never regained consciousness.

"Numbers of casualties has increased," said Panitan Wattanayagorn, who is a Chulalongkorn University political scientist. "In particular the violence in certain areas - shooting and burning of the victims - has been detected much more."

In December alone, insurgents carried out 186 attacks, killing or wounding 170 - almost all civilians. Over the past three years more than 1,800 people have died. A Thai intelligence report warns more such bloodshed may be coming.

In September, when the Thai military ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, there was hope that peace could be brought to the south. Army generals favored talking with the insurgents, something Mr. Thaksin had opposed.

"The guerillas try to show that they are stronger than the government force and they can control everything and they think it is time for them to show the people that you cannot trust the Thai government anymore," explained Chid Rahimulla, from the Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani province.

Prime Minister Surayud Chalunont and Army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who led the coup, promise renewed efforts to end the violence.

Mr. Surayud, soon after taking office, traveled to the south and apologized for past abuses by the military. He called for a start of what he termed the "healing process".

"Nowhere is the need for national unity and understanding more critical than in our three southernmost provinces where violent death has become a daily tragedy," he said. "Five years of politically motivated ill-conceived meddling and strong arm tactics cannot be erased overnight."

But Chulalongkorn University's Panitan says the effort to negotiate with former leaders of the insurgency is unlikely to succeed.

"The strategy is to perhaps talk to the local cell leaders who are quite active in certain areas. But that's going to be difficult," said Panitan. "Local cells are not willing to talk and the people who are supporting the cells are also not willing to give information."

Intelligence reports say the militants want to maintain a climate of fear, to keep control of Thai Muslim communities.

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