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Bloody Clash at Southern Thailand Mosque Leaves Many Bewildered, Angry - 2004-04-29


One day after the bloody clashes in southern Thailand that killed more than 100 people, grieving families have buried most of the dead and the Thai government is trying to determine who was behind the incident. Meanwhile, in the neighborhood where a standoff at a mosque led to the bloodiest clash, residents are bewildered and angry.

The Krue Se mosque is a small, one-story brick building with a tin roof. More than 400-years-old, it sits on the outskirts of Pattani next to a busy highway.

One day after the eight-hour siege in which 32 attackers were killed by Thai security forces, people have washed the blood from its tiled floor and cleaned the bronze plaque inscribed with Koranic sayings.

They have not yet repaired the loudspeaker, so the unamplified voice of an elderly muezzin calls the faithful to prayer for the first time since the attack.

About 100 local people have gathered to pray and inspect the damage to the old building. After prayers, some stay to discuss the event that has many of them still in shock.

Mustafa Sabdam lives nearby and came running over when he heard the shooting. He watched the fight and says the bodies brought out afterwards were mostly those of young men, 18 to 20-years-old.

Mustafa is upset because he says the soldiers kept firing into the sanctuary, even after it had become silent.

Another man from the neighborhood, Maroni Late, says the soldiers should have tried harder to avoid violence in the holy place.

He wonders why the government did not negotiate with the men in the mosque. He says "we are all Thai. We should not fight. We should talk."

Thai officials say the attackers took refuge in the mosque after killing two policemen at a nearby post and stealing their arms. Yet security forces waited hours before launching their counterattack. The country's senior Muslim leader has weighed in, saying that government forces showed sufficient restraint.

Nevertheless, the incident has deepened suspicions and resentment among a people with a long history of grievances against a distant central government and what they say are its heavy-handed security forces.

Nobody seems to know who is behind the latest attacks, which were launched almost simultaneously against a dozen security posts in three southern provinces. But many people say if their purpose was to drive a deeper wedge between this mainly Muslim region and the central government of predominantly Buddhist Thailand, they are succeeding.

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