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Amnesty International Says Thailand  Abusing Muslim Detainees

A report by Amnesty International into the violence into Southern Thailand, says Thai security forces have applied "systematic" torture on detainees as part of efforts to end a Muslim insurgency. Amnesty is to call for the Thai government to end the practice.

The Amnesty report says Thai security forces are systematically engaging in torture and other ill-treatment in the violence-plagued southern provinces in efforts to end a five-year Muslim insurgency.

The report says torture is being applied through beatings, burning by candles, burying of people to their necks, electric shocks, and exposure to intense heat and cold. Amnesty said at least four people have died as a result of the torture.

The report covers the period from March 2007 through to May 2008. It says the abuses occurred under a military-appointed government following a 2006 coup and under the civilian administration that came to power in December 2007 elections.

The report cited more than 20 unofficial detention centers in border provinces, which it said left detainees "vulnerable to abuse."

Amnesty's Asia-Pacific Program Deputy Director Donna Guest said the report's aim is to raise awareness of abuses that could no longer be ignored.

"We have documented the use of torture by the security forces in the south of Muslim suspects," Guest said. "We have found this to be systematic. Now there are many policies in the government which we commend prohibiting and punishing torture by officials. But it goes on anyway, and it is just too widespread over too long a period to ignore."

Thai security forces stepped up operations in mid-2007 in special military-police combined sweeps of up to 300 personnel in raids on villages leading to a large number of arrests.

The operations marked a further effort by security forces to end the insurgency that began in 2004. Since then it has claimed about 3,500 lives mostly civilians and just over half Muslims. While Thailand is a majority Buddhist country, the population in the southern border provinces with Malaysia is largely Muslim.

Amnesty also noted insurgent attacks have been "particularly brutal." Since 2005 insurgents have engaged in bombings, beheadings, and drive-by shootings of both Buddhist and Muslim security forces and civilians. Other targets have been state schools and teachers.

Amnesty researcher Benjamin Zawacki said he recognized the "enormous pressures" security forces are under in attempting to end the insurgency.

Security forces often faced with poor intelligence and evidence gathering have turned to torture to intimidate detainees to withhold support from the insurgency, but Zawacki said the use of torture is counter-productive.

"Being able to bring insurgents to justice through confessions that come about through torture is not a sustainable solution," Zawacki said. "It is actually counter to their interests because it only causes more bad feeling in the South and runs counter to the government's desire to win the hearts and minds in the South."

The new government led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has vowed to improve the judicial system in the South. The region is under military control through martial law and emergency decrees. But analysts say any moves to boost civilian control in the south may be resisted by the military.