13 schools torched in southern Thailand

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A school burns in 2005.
Image: Brian Carter.

In an apparent coordinated attack, 13 schools were set ablaze late yesterday in southern Thailand, an escalation of violence that authorities are blaming on Muslim insurgents.

The 13 schools were burned in Pattani and Yala, two of the three restive, Muslim-majority Thai provinces on the border of Malaysia.

On Monday in the third province, Narathiwat, three teachers were fatally shot. Two female teachers, both Buddhist, were fatally shot while on lunch break at Bansako School in Si Sakorn. A male teacher from another school was gunned down while buying cigarettes at a store in Ra-ngae. On Tuesday morning in Yala's Raman district, a 60-year-old Muslim teacher was fatally shot in his pick-up truck on the Raman-Balo road.

Since 2004, more than 200 schools have been burned in arson attacks and 77 teachers killed, education officials say. About 110 schools in Narathiwat and Yala provinces have been temporarily closed, while officials re-assess the security situation.

Teachers and schools, potent symbols of the Buddhist majority Thai central government, are prime targets in the Muslim insurgency in south Thailand, which has seen a steady escalation since 2004, with almost daily fatal shootings and bombings, killing more than 2,300 people.

School staff called on the government to provide better security. Many teachers travel with armed escorts, or have taken to carrying firearms themselves.

"We want school compounds to be safe areas for teachers. Today we have no safe areas for teachers, be they houses, communities or schools," Vicharn Athikapan, chairman of the Confederation of Southern Teachers, was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post yesterday. "Although it is difficult to deploy soldiers to protect teachers at schools, the state must do it."

Bombing, beheading

Today, a Royal Thai Army soldier was seriously injured in the explosion of a roadside bomb, which was placed opposite a vocational college in Narathiwat.

Late yesterday evening (local time), a 44-year-old man was killed in a drive-by shooting in Yala. Earlier, in Narathiwat's Rueso district, three men were fatally shot, and one was beheaded. The beheading was the 10th this year, and one of 25 in southern Thailand since 2004.

Also yesterday, one soldier was killed and another injured in a roadside bomb near a school in Thung Yang Daeng, Pattani. Another soldier was killed and six others injured in Pattani's Yarang district when a roadside bomb ripped through the pickup truck they were riding in.

Cambodian Muslims

On Tuesday in eastern Thailand's Sa Kaeo Province, on the border with Cambodia, police detained 15 Cambodian Muslims after one of the group was found to be carrying items that could be used to make bombs.

The owner of the bag told police he was carrying the items for a friend in southern Thailand, and were to be used to make explosives for catching fish. The items were seized, and all 15 men were sent back to Cambodia.

The incident follows a diplomatic flare-up last weekend between Thailand and Cambodia, after published comments were attributed to Thai General Wattanachai Chaimuenwong, saying Cambodian Muslims have links to the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist organization, as well as the south Thailand insurgency.

Wattanachai, an adviser to Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, later denied making the statements, after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an angry rebuke against Thai officials.

"Because of their own weakness, they are now finding others to blame," Hun Sen was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.