|Muslim women look on as Thai security forces take up positions in anticipation of a visit to Krue-Sea Mosque by PM Thaksin Shinawatra in Pattani (File photo - May 8, 2004)|
If the government of Thailand does not try a new approach in dealing with a Muslim insurgency, Muslim radicals from elsewhere in Southeast Asia may join in the fighting. That warning comes in a new report issued Wednesday by the International Crisis Group.
Since the start of 2004 over 600 people have died in violence in the largely Muslim provinces of southern Thailand. And the report by the International Crisis Group, Southern Thailand: Insurgency Not Jihad, says the attacks are escalating this year.
So far, it says, there are no major signs that the insurgents have links with terrorist groups elsewhere in Southeast Asia. But Francesca Lawe-Davies, a Crisis Group analyst, says that could change if the government does not make a greater effort at reconciliation. She says Bangkok needs to begin talks with Muslim leaders that address certain key issues.
"The violence we're seeing day to day has much more to do with local grievances, with a sense of injustice and discrimination and frustration with national level politics and policy toward the south than to do with any Islamist agenda," said Ms. Lawe-Davies.
Thailand's minority Muslim community accounts for about four percent of the country's 65 million largely Buddhist population. Most Thai Muslims live in the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala, near the border with Malaysia. In the past some of them have accused the central government of bias and discrimination.
The report warns that failure to end the violence may lead to generate local support for a separate Muslim state as well as add to diplomatic tensions between Thailand and Malaysia because of the Thai Government's tough security measures.
Human rights groups have accused the military of abuses against the Muslims. Thailand's National Human Rights Commission this month said the Thai army had been guilty of "violent breaches of human rights" in handling of a protest last October in the town of Tak Bai that led to death of 85 Muslim men.
In recent weeks the government said it was moving to address some of these issues. It has set up a national reconciliation commission to ease tensions between the country's Buddhist and Muslim communities. Last year, the Thai cabinet set out plans to spend millions of dollars in development aid for the southern border region.
But Ms. Lawe-Davies says the reconciliation commission is a "first step" in the right direction, but the government needs to act "more quickly, and more boldly" or the initiative may fail to have a major impact on government policy.