An international rights group says violence is rising as the Thai military battles Muslim insurgents in the country's south. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the new brutality breaks with a previous strategy of seeking a political solution to the fighting.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the increased brutality by both the insurgents and the military. The group particularly warns that violence by the military is undermining earlier efforts to win the Muslim's community support in fighting the insurgency.
More than 3,000 people have died in three provinces bordering Malaysia since the insurgency began in 2004. This year, the insurgents have ramped up the attacks, targeting teachers, civil servants and even elderly Buddhists; dozens of victims have been gunned down in their neighborhoods or beheaded in their fields.
Sunai Pasuk, the Human Rights Watch representative in Thailand, says in response some military commanders in the south have reverted to extrajudicial violence against the insurgents.
"We have found that the government forces have more and more resorted to extrajudicial tactics, illegal tactics, particularly by using summary arrest - blacklisting, torture as standard protocol, in their counterinsurgency operation. So that we are now ending up with an environment where there is no trust left between the Muslim community and government forces," said Sunai Pasuk.
Pasuk says those tactics not only reduce civilian support for the military, they may encourage more insurgent brutality.
"Now we see the consequences of heavy-handed tactics that is [are] a breeding ground for even more radical insurgents who are very brutal. They don't even blink, they kill; and they are now killing kids, they are killing women, they kill old people who are unable to defend themselves," added Pasuk.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, a defense analyst at Chulalongkorn University, says the insurgents appear to be using more sophisticated weaponry.
"In terms of statistics, overall violence is down but individual cases and trends, like bombs and the brutality or high level of coordination and equipment are also increasing in terms of proficiency," said Panitan Wattanayagorn. "Meaning that the militant members are learning much more - they are more experienced in attacking."
The military's tougher tactics break from the strategy of the previous government, which sought a political solution to the insurgency. That government, which came to power in a coup in 2006, was replaced early this year after elections.
Human Rights Watch says the Thai army commander in chief has pledged to punish soldiers found violating human rights in the south. The group says it plans to identify those soldiers and provide names to the military.
Only about five percent of Thailand's population is Muslim. Most of the Muslim community lives in the south, one of the country's poorest regions. Residents of the south have long complained about discrimination and neglect by the government.