Monday, June 22, 2009

Thailand Attacks Raise Threat of Sectarian War

Ten Muslim villagers killed by gunmen firing assault rifles into a mosque during evening prayers. A 53-year-old Buddhist rubber tapper shot, decapitated and limbs cut from his torso, his head impaled on a stick.

The circumstances and brutality of those attacks this month have revived fears that a long-running insurgency in Thailand's south could be evolving into a sectarian conflict pitting Buddhists against Muslims.

Islamic separatists ignited the insurgency in January 2004, sparking a cycle of army repression and rebellion that has left more than 3,500 people dead. Frustrated by their inability to curb the violence, Thai security forces have increasingly been arming civilian self-defense forces, almost all Buddhist, to protect villagers.
The proliferation of guns, many put in the poorly trained hands of parties with scores to settle, makes the situation extremely volatile.

Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist nation, annexed the Muslim-majority south in the early 20th century. The Muslims, who are ethnically distinct from Thais, have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens, with inadequate educational and job opportunities.

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