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Thailand: Thais to study mass graves in sectarian killings inquiry

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  • Zafar Khan
    Thais to study mass graves in sectarian killings inquiry By Jan McGirk in Bangkok Published: 31 May 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2006
      Thais to study mass graves in sectarian killings
      By Jan McGirk in Bangkok
      Published: 31 May 2006


      Hundreds of nameless bodies dumped at an ethnic
      Chinese cemetery in southern Thailand are to be dug up
      and examined in a grim reminder of the neglected chaos
      on this country's southern border.

      After months of foot-dragging, officials have ordered
      a government forensics team to exhume 300 unmarked
      graves in Pattani province. Human-rights activists
      suspect that these unknown corpses might include
      suspected Muslim insurgents who were abducted and
      executed by government death squads.

      Nearly 1,300 people have died in the 30 months since
      violence re-erupted in Thailand's impoverished deep
      south, home to some three million Muslims. The
      majority of these anonymous bodies turned up in
      Pattani, a former sultanate near the Malaysian
      frontier where a dormant separatist insurgency has
      reignited, but almost 200 more were tracked down in
      neighbouring Yala and Narathiwat provinces, where
      bloodshed is increasing. Kidnaps, bombs and beheadings
      are almost daily occurrences.

      The governor of Pattani, Panu Athairat, insisted that
      333 of the 435 unclaimed bodies found in early March
      belonged to migrant fishermen from Cambodia, Laos and
      Burma. He claimed that around 100 bodies had simply
      washed ashore from passing trawlers. Authorities
      denied any link to a crackdown on Islamic insurgents
      in the three restive border provinces.

      Mr Panu stressed: "Only 10 of the bodies were found to
      be Muslim workers from fishing trawlers, and were
      given to religious leaders for proper burials in
      Muslim graves."

      But Dr Porntip Rojanasunand, the Justice Ministry
      forensics chief, was sceptical: "Police believe they
      were illegal immigrant workers and 80 per cent of them
      were killed. I plan to perform DNA tests on those
      bodies." Exhumation will start Monday at the Tong Dek
      Xiang Teung graveyard in PattaniĀ’s Muang district.

      Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, who last week called for
      an investigation of the graves, has documented alleged
      abductions and extrajudicial killings near the border.
      He said: "The families of the victims in the south
      feel they cannot go to the Government. It is too
      dangerous. Many people have been forcibly disappeared
      in the south and these atrocities must be
      investigated." He added: "It has at least been
      confirmed that these notorious mass graves were found.
      Perhaps killings have been perpetrated on immigrant
      workers, as well."

      When an overcrowded cemetery in Pattani sought
      permission to cremate unidentified corpses to free up
      burial plots, 300 unclaimed bodies came to light.
      Nearly all were male.

      "This is very suspicious, given the campaign against
      the Muslim community," said Senator Kraisak. "We need
      to exhume and examine the bodies and determine whether
      deaths were caused by unnatural means. We must be
      allowed to find the cause - whether there are bullet
      holes in the skulls, or whatever."

      He said the "intensified killings, and almost
      illogical violence" in the south has been kept out of
      the news by a political breakdown in Bangkok. Security
      officers responsible for the deaths of 85 Muslim
      protesters in October 2004 and 105 Islamic militants
      in April that year had gone unpunished, in fact most
      have been promoted.

      After an seven-week break, the first thing on Prime
      Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's agenda last week was the
      violence in the south. More than 100 government
      schools in Narathiwat province are now closed because
      students and staff are too intimidated to attend.
      Schools have been targeted in shootings. One young
      teacher is in a coma after villagers held her hostage
      to swap for two locals arrested as insurgents. A
      senior army strategist estimated that about 100 of the
      1,520 villages in the south were deeply infiltrated by

      "There was no real effort to bring ethnic Malays into
      the intelligence community when things were quiet for
      nearly a decade," a senior army intelligence officer
      told the Nation, a Bangkok daily. A new generation of
      Islamic separatists, mostly trained at religious
      schools, is asserting itself.

      Most businesses are owned by wealthy Buddhists with
      roots outside the area, fuelling the resentment of
      local rubber tappers and fishermen. Barely 100 years
      ago, this distinct region was ruled by a sultan, and
      the pagodas of Bangkok seemed very remote indeed.

      Caught between disasters, Javan villagers brave
      erupting volcano


      "Am I nervous?" asked Heru Suparwaka, watching the
      needle of the seismograph sketch a crazy route across
      the page, accompanied by a high-pitched whine. "Of
      course I'm nervous."

      Mr Heru is part of a small team monitoring Mount
      Merapi, one of the world's most active volcanoes, from
      an observation post high on its slopes. The area, on
      Indonesia's Java island, has been on red alert for
      weeks, since Merapi began spewing out lava and clouds
      of gas and hot ash. But since last weekend's
      earthquake, its activity has intensified dramatically,
      sparking fears of an imminent eruption.
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