IT IS the shoes of the murdered bus passengers that everyone remembers. Nine corpses, nine sets of footwear — a girl’s plastic sandals, a boy’s trainers and clean white socks, a woman’s sensible casuals — all lined up by the jungle roadside.That's not to say that all Muslims are safe there:
The scene marked another grim milestone in an insurgency that has torn apart Thailand’s three majority Muslim provinces for the past three years.
First, the attackers threw a grenade to stop the minibus. Then they shot dead the passengers, one by one. Only the driver survived. The executioners heard him gabbling to Allah for forgiveness, realised he was not a Buddhist and spared him.
“Even a Muslim like me is better off back in the city and off the roads by 3pm,” said the manager of a hotel in which I was the only guest. “And I do not advise you as a foreigner to go out after dark.”Unfortunately, the prognosis for Thailand looks pretty grim:
Yet statistics show that almost half the victims are Muslim. This is also a war within a war to dominate the Islamic community. Moderates risk threats and ostracism. Informers and collaborators with the Thai state are doomed.
Three schoolboys died the other week when grenades were thrown into their playground. The message, say analysts, is: Muslim youth should get out of schools run by the Thai government and attend private Islamic foundations often run by Thais trained in the Middle East.
“The coup leaders continue to ask the wrong questions and refuse to take the conflict for what it is — an Islamic insurgency,” said Professor Zachary Abuza of Simmons College, Boston, the leading foreign expert on the struggle. “Many Thais think it’s only about poverty and social justice,” he added.
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There remains little or no documentary evidence of global links, although a lone Arabic website has made its debut extolling the jihad in southern Thailand. Perhaps the greatest mystery is why the militants have stayed on their home ground, refraining from attacks on Thailand’s multi-billion-pound tourist industry.
In an ominous development, however, military intelligence officers recently disclosed that they had picked up two surveillance teams of suspected extremists in Bangkok and Phuket within the past 18 months.
“This is a downward spiral,” said Abuza, “and it could be just a matter of time.”