ASIA/THAILAND - Motives behind violence in southern Thailand are political not religious Apostolic Administrator of Surat Thani diocese told Fides

Wednesday, 28 April 2004

Bangkok (Fides Service) - “This uprising is political not religious. Radical Islamic groups launched attacks on the government accusing it of thwarting certain Muslim leaders in the past. They want revenge for reasons rooted in old separatist claims” Rev. Peter Nichon Sarathit, Apostolic Administrator of Surat Thani told Fides, with regard to clashes between army and Muslim separatist militants in the provinces of Pattani, Sonbgkhla and Yala, southern Thailand.
Rev. Sarathit said: “I visited the area recently and people are still fear more of the violence which first exploded in January. Many families have moved north fearing more.
In Surat Thani diocese there is a population of about 9 million, of whom 6,000 are Catholics living mainly in the northern part of the territory. There are only a few Catholics in the area affected by the rioting: small groups of about 70. “In these three provinces there are three Catholic churches and three schools. So far they have not been affected and pastoral activity and school service continue as usual. The Catholics do not want to be part of the separatist uprising. However there is a danger of non-Muslims being involved because the radical Islamic groups refuse to dialogue with anyone. One Protestant church in Yala province was attacked. The separatists appear to be supported by fundamentalist groups in Malaysia with logistic help, weapons and money ”.
According to Rev. Sarathit, “to calm the situation the government should try to dialogue with moderate Muslim leaders who are more in the background and are given less importance than the more radical leaders.
Violence in southern Thailand started in January when the rebels torched 18 schools and assaulted an army camp. The attacks were reportedly led Local Mujahedeen Pattani separatists, which the army said, were in contact with radical Malaysian groups. The Thai government imposed martial law and made 30 arrests including the arrest of two Muslim teachers. Over the past three months the government has given much attention to the situation in the south trying the meet the demands of the Muslim community and promoting development projects.
Thailand’s population of 60 million is 90% Buddhist, 6%, Muslim, living mostly in the south and mainly of Malay origin, and 2.2% Christian among these 280,000 Catholics (PA) (Agenzia Fides 28/4/2004 lines 40 words 483)