April 28, 2004, updated 12:50 p.m.
Thai troops crush Muslim militant revolt
Are attacks by international terrorists, homegrown separatists, or
by Matthew Clark | csmonitor.com
More than 100 Muslim militants were killed by government troops in
southern Thailand Wednesday. The militants were killed after
launching early morning attacks on army and police posts in the
provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Songkhla, near the Malaysian border.
At least 30 of the rebels were killed when troops raided a mosque
where they were holed up, reports the Agence France-Presse.
Only five security personnel were reported to have died in the
clashes. Police were tipped off about the raid in advance and were
waiting for the militants, reports The Age of Melbourne, Australia.
Some of the militants had guns, but most were armed only with
machetes, said Lieutenant General Proong Bunphandung, the chief of
police for the south.
Zarqawi purportedly orders more attacks
Cities on the edge
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Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sought immediately to
portray the attacks as localized criminal acts that were not
connected to Islamic militancy in the region. He says the attacks
were motivated by crime, reports Reuters. "We will uproot them,
depriving them of a chance to allude to issues of separatism and
religion. In the end, they were all bandits," Thaksin said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Mr.
Thaksin's official spokesman, Jakrapob Penkair, said the government
was launching an investigation into the matter. "There have been
people who take advantage by trying to motivate others to enter a war
of ideological confrontation, but actually the government sees it as
camouflage for illegal enterprise."
But a transcript of an Australian Broadcast Corporation radio program
says that Thaksin's government "has blamed Islamic separatists
seeking to establish a homeland in the south of the predominantly
Buddhist country." On this transcript of ABC's "The World Today,"
Southeast Asia correspondent Peter Lloyd reports on the confusion
surrounding who is behind the attacks. He said that some analysts
believe that the incident is linked to "clashes between corrupt
elements of the police and the military and also gangsters who are
running cross-border trade illicit cross-border trade between
neighboring Malaysia." Mr. Lloyd also reports that the intelligence
community in Thailand doesn't believe that Islamic terrorist groups
like Al Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiyah have "carved out any presence in
But other analysts have "voiced concerns that the attackers could
have links to militant groups outside Thailand," reports the BBC. One
of the militants killed in the clashes had a shirt with JI on the
back, which BBC says could be a "possible reference to Jemaah
Islamiyah, the group blamed for terrorist attacks across Southeast
Asia, including the Bali bombings."
Voice of America cites professor Ron May, an expert on Southeast
Asian Islamic movements at Australia National University, as
saying: "JI and other groups have been operating in southern Thailand
and as the Army has moved in there have been increasing clashes."
Some people blame a heavy-handed government crackdown for creating
animosity in the region, however. BBC reports that Islamic community
leaders say tactics used by security forces "may have served to
encourage those who already felt disenfranchised."
Radio Singapore International cites Chairman of the Human Rights
Committee of Thailand's Law Society Somchai Homlaor as saying: "The
Thai government has underestimated the situation in southern Thailand
for a long time. The group that is behind these attacks may have
political intentions to establish an independent state."
In January the government enacted martial law in the southern region
of Narathiwat after four Thai soldiers were killed and militants took
M-16 automatic rifles from an army weapons depot. Since then clashes
in the south have been escalating, says Reuters in a brief chronology
of the 2004 violence.
Muslim separatists launched a small-scale insurgency in region in the
1970s. By the late 80s, this was ended by a general amnesty, notes
Voice of America.
The BBC also reports that there is concern Thailand's tourism will be
affected, despite the fact that most tourist activity is far from the
southern provinces hit by Wednesday's violence. Malaysia has
tightened security along its border with Thailand following the
violence, reports AFP
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