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Thai Beheadings Copycat Iraqi Slayings - Minister

Thai Beheadings Copycat Iraqi Slayings - Minister

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Eight gruesome beheadings in Thailand's south, where Muslim separatists are escalating their fight, were "copied from the violence in Iraq," according to Thailand's interior minister.

For the past 18 months, Buddhist-majority Thailand has been steadily losing the battle against ethnic Malay Muslim separatists who have become increasingly secretive, sly and successful in bombing, burning and shooting military and civilian targets on nearly a daily basis.

Since January 2004, at least 790 people have died and 1,217 wounded in fighting between Muslim insurgents and Thai security forces, police said.

Many of the dead and injured were civilians, including Buddhist monks, teachers, plantation workers, businessmen and shopkeepers.

Eight civilian beheadings during June, however, rattled the security forces which have gone through several reshuffles to streamline their often confused and undisciplined treatment of Muslims in the south.

"We are really concerned about the beheadings because it is so brutal," Interior Minister Chidchai Vanasathidya said.

"Our intelligence has found it was copied from the violence in Iraq," Mr. Chidchai told reporters on Monday (July 4).

The latest beheading occurred on June 29, when a 57-year-old Buddhist construction worker was approached by two men on a motorcycle and held at gunpoint.

While his construction team watched in horror, he was shot in the head, and then decapitated by a machete.

The attackers stuck the head in a fertilizer bag and abandoned it about a mile away.

Previous beheadings included a rubber plantation worker, a retired Buddhist teacher, a couple from Laos, a cloth vendor, and other civilians.

"Since in most of these eight cases, the victims were shot first -- in fact some might have already been dead -- the act of beheading as a form of injury and killing could be seen as superfluous," Chaiwat Satha-Anand, director of the Peace Information Center at Bangkok's prestigious Thammasat University, wrote in an essay published on Tuesday (July 5).

"In addition to its meaning as a fear-generating activity, it could also be seen as a form of punishment," Mr. Chaiwat said.

Bangkok told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in June that there is no evidence of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, or other foreign Islamist insurgents, operating in the south.

Thai officials insist the fight is not a religious feud between Muslims and Buddhists, but instead involves southern Muslims alienated by years of perceived injustice, discrimination, poverty and neglect by Bangkok.

The separatists' successes are exaggerated because the south suffers from smugglers, gangsters, corrupt officials and others who are also using violence to get rich and settle scores, officials claim.

Other officials, however, said Islamist slogans and tactics used by al Qaeda and its allies have inspired Muslim separatists in the south, bolstering their bid for an independent homeland along Thailand's southern border with Muslim-majority Malaysia.

"Despite many preventive measures, police have failed to cope with the unrest," said National Police Chief, General Kowit Wattana.

"Local people should cooperate with authorities, otherwise the situation will worsen. In many cases, when insurgents carried out attacks and then melted into the local population, residents tried to cover up their activities," General Kowit said.

"Putting off so many Muslims is the state's official portrait of the model Muslim citizen, or 'moderate' as the government likes to say," the Nation newspaper reported.

"The model isn't catching on. No one wants to be seen as a 'Muslim Uncle Tom'."

The escalating violence has caused hundreds of teachers in the south to panic and request transfers north.

About 2,000 of the 10,000 teachers currently in the south have demanded pistols to defend themselves from insurgents who want to disrupt Thailand's official curriculum and replace it with their own interpretation of Islam's holy book, the Koran.

"All the young militants you see today are trained in Thailand, in the pondok (private Islamic) school system," said Wan Kadir Che Man, who lives in self-exile in Europe from where he heads Bersatu, a militant group which calls for political autonomy in the south.

"Today, the resurgence of Islam worldwide gives the separatist movement a more religious flavor, and we see the Islamists working closer with the nationalists," Mr. Wan Kadir said in an interview published in The Nation newspaper.

The army should train teachers and allow them to carry guns, said Education Permanent Secretary Kasama Varavar.

At least 24 teachers were killed, and 35 schools burned down, since January 2004 in the Muslim-majority, southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, officials said.

"Separatism is a political view of southerners, which is serious," General Surayud Chulanont told the Press Council of Thailand on Monday (July 4).

"But today, only a handful of people are trying to fan the flames of separatism through violence and religious divide," said General Surayud, who was the former army chief and supreme commander.

"The toll of victims grows almost daily from shootings, bombings, fires and the most gruesome murders by decapitation," the respected Bangkok Post said in a Tuesday (July 5) editorial.

"Neither a group, nor the leaders of the rebellion, has been identified, even as the violence has escalated...the government seems often confused."


Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is

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