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Thai PM Tells Islamic Conf. Official To Read Koran

Thai PM Tells Islamic Conf. Official To Read Koran


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's Buddhist prime minister angrily told the Saudi Arabian-based Organization of Islamic Conference to "read the Koran" before criticizing his military crackdown in the south, where more than 1,000 people have died in the worst Islamist insurgency outside Iraq.

"I would like him to read the Koran which stated clearly that all Muslims, regardless where they live, must respect the law of that land," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Thursday (Oct. 20), in remarks aimed at OIC Secretary-General Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

"This means the Koran wants Muslims to live peacefully with people of other religions," Thaksin said, referring to Islam's sacred text which believers regard as God's revelations.

Thaksin has been struggling to contain the rapidly escalating violence in southern Thailand, where most of this Southeast Asian nation's minority Muslims live.

"All Thai people are tired of the violence and want to see peace. I will do every by all means to end the violence," Thaksin said.

"Such criticisms contained in the Muslim organization's communique is considered most inappropriate."

The prime minister's blast, during his weekly news conference, came after Ihsanoglu announced on Tuesday (Oct. 18) that the OIC was deeply concerned "about continued acts of violence in southern Thailand against Muslims, claiming the lives of innocent civilians, and inflicting harm on properties."

Ihsanoglu's official OIC statement, issued in Jeddah, did not mention the killing of Buddhists.

Hundreds of Buddhist civilians -- including businessmen, commuters, plantation workers and clergy -- have died alongside Muslim civilians in the south, in addition to mostly Buddhist troops and Muslim insurgents.

"Some villages have been under siege, and some families had to migrate," the OIC said, referring to 131 Muslims who recently fled from Narathiwat province across the border into Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Malaysia has since criticized Thailand over the plight of the 131 fearful Muslims, causing relations between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok to rapidly deteriorate in recent days.

Bangkok must "reach a peaceful settlement of the legitimate demands of the Muslim Thai citizens in southern Thailand," and allow them to "manage their local affairs through participation guaranteed by the Thai constitution, within the framework of respect for territorial integrity of Thailand," the OIC's Ihsanoglu said.

The violence in Thailand's southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala has left more than 1,000 people dead since January 2004 when suspected Islamist insurgents burnt down 21 schools, raided a military base, killed several people and escaped with hundreds of weapons.

The self-styled "mujahideen" demand an end to perceived persecution and discrimination by Bangkok, and a separate homeland in the south.

In the latest shock attack, suspected Islamists assaulted a Buddhist temple in Pattani province on Oct. 17, killed a monk and two boys who lived at the temple, and escaped.

"We will definitely retaliate," Thaksin vowed the next day.

Bombings, assassinations, arson attacks and other assaults erupt in the south on virtually a daily basis.

The military was stunned on Sept. 21 when Muslim insurgents escaped after torturing to death two Thai marines by beating and stabbing their bound-and-gagged victims behind a human shield of defiantly anti-government Muslim women and children.

The killing of the two military men in Tanyong Limo village, Narathiwat province, horrified the government and plunged southern Thailand into a fresh security crisis.

"If I could, I would drop napalm bombs all over that village," a distraught Captain Traikwan Krairiksh was quoted in the Bangkok Post as saying after he viewed the two bodies of his former subordinates in a pool of blood.

"But the fact is, I can never do that. We are soldiers. We must follow the law. We can only take revenge by using the law," Capt. Traikwan said.

In July, Bangkok clamped the south under a "state of emergency" which includes controversial Article 17, granting impunity to security forces so they cannot be prosecuted for killings or other acts while deployed.

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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 http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent/

-ENDS-

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