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Thailand Muslim Militants Threaten to Chop Off Ears

BosNewsLife (01/03/06)

By Richard S. Ehrlich,

After a dozen beheadings in the Muslim-majority south, leaflets have appeared reportedly threatening to chop off the ears of any Muslim who works on weekends.

Islamist separatists are fighting to restore the south’s long-lost independence from Buddhist-majority Thailand .

More than 800 people have died since January 2004 amid bombings, assassinations, arson and other assaultsIn rebel-torn Yala province, along the border with Malaysia , intelligence officials are investigating leaflets “urging local residents to stop working on Saturdays and Sundays, or they would have their ears cut off,” the Bangkok Post newspaper has reported.

Muslim fundamentalists in the south earlier demanded no one work on Fridays — Islam’s traditional weekly holy day. It comes amid fears within the Christian minority of Thailand that they will become targets as well. Sources with ties to the Thai intelligence services have told BosNewsLife there were fears of a major terror attack, possibly against churches here.

In Bangkok , security forces can be spotted in shopping malls and other areas. Despite stepped up security, threats continue. For example, southern Honda motorcycle dealer Vithoon Khupanthawee said an anonymous person telephoned him and asked that he stop working on Fridays and close his showrooms. Worried, he complied.

CONFUSION REMAINS

Confusion over the leaflets’ forbidden days has prompted intelligence officials to investigate whether Islamists were behind the threats or perhaps a mysterious “third party” seeking to inflame hostilities. Narathiwat province officials have warned the public to ignore any death threats from suspected Islamist separatists who they say may be the same group which demanded Muslims’ shops and businesses close on Fridays.

Islamist guerrillas in the southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala have focused many of their successful attacks against rubber plantations, army and police posts, and government-run schools. As a result, they have crippled the south’s economy, killed troops and stolen their weapons, officials say. They are trying to replace the south’s public education with private religious schools which stress memorization of the Koran.

Since June, they have beheaded a dozen victims in the south – mostly Buddhists – in a new strategy “copied from the violence in Iraq ,” according to Thailand ‘s Interior Minister Chidchai Vanasathidya. They have also proved adept at constructing, hiding and detonating improvised explosive devices, including one which blew up under a bench at a bus stop in Narathiwat province, injuring five soldiers and another bombing which killed at least one person in August.

CELL PHONE

Investigators believed one of the bombs “may have been ignited by a cell phone.” Killings and injuries in the south now occur on virtually a daily basis. “These bomb attacks and the earlier tsunami really effect our business,” said Willie Janssen, a Catholic Dutch bar owner in Thailand ‘s resort island of Phuket . “Sometimes you feel that life is worth nothing here,” he added.

Thailand , a “non-NATO ally” of the United States , has repeatedly expressed frustration at not being able to quell the separatist struggle. Queen Sirikit broadcast an emotional plea on her 73rd birthday, Thursday August 11, saying “our hearts bleed for our fellow countrymen” in the south where “intolerable cruelties” continue unabated.

“Even Buddhist monks have been killed. I don’t want people to sit still. Even I, myself, have to come out and speak out,” the queen told the nation. The Bangkok government clamped a state of emergency on the south in July and empowered itself with an executive decree which includes Article 17 — giving impunity to security forces so they cannot be prosecuted for abuses committed while deployed.

However this has added to international concern about Thailand’s human rights record. “There is impunity for any policeman or soldier whose behavior is against human rights,” Catherine Chanet, head of the United Nations Human Rights Committee told reporters in July. “It is a provision of the law, and we said it was absolutely not in conformity” with human rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This year BosNewsLife investigated persecution of Christians and Islamic violence. BosNewsLife’s Senior Asia Correspondent Richard S. Ehrlich filed this report on August 23 on Muslim extremism in Thailand.