Tense protests face off along religious lines

May 6, 2007


Rival demonstrators in the deep South continued their blockades along Yala-Betong road in Bannang Sata district yesterday. Islamic protesters were pressing for the release of 24 villagers being detained at a military camp, while Buddhists called for Muslim villagers to abandon their protests.Two groups of Muslim protesters, each totalling about 100 and mostly made up of women and children, massed at new rally sites yesterday, joining the growing public demonstrations in Bannang Sata. Both rally sites were along the Yala-Betong highway _ one near Ban Jaroh Pisaekuela mosque in tambon Taling Chan and the other at Tanoh Puteh mosque in tambon Tanoh Puteh.The new demonstrators lent support to more than 300 Muslim women and children who rallied for a third day yesterday on a stretch of the same road in Krong Pinang sub-district.Local ethnic-Malay villagers have been calling for the authorities to set free 24 Muslims who have been held at the Ingkhayuthboriharn military camp in Pattani province since April 29 on suspicion of supporting the insurgency.The protesters also wanted to see the lifting of a curfew in Bannang Sata and Yaha districts of Yala and removal of military units from the areas.

At the same time, more than 200 Buddhist residents continued their own counter-protest for the second day, also on the Yala-Betong road in Bannang Sata, calling for Muslim villagers to disband their protests and stop trying to pressure the authorities to release the insurgent suspects.

Both sides have set up road blocks on the Yala-Betong road, forcing commuters to take alternative routes.

People stuck in Betong wanting to get to Yala’s Muang district have the option of crossing into Malaysia and re-entering the country through Songkhla’s Sadao district.

Security personnel, government officers and representatives from the provincial Islamic committee have been called to an urgent meeting to seek ways to put an end to the growing protests.

Riot police have also been put on standby in case of unexpected incidents.

Police Region 9 commissioner Jettanakorn Napeetaphat said yesterday that police were doing their best to ensure there were no confrontations between Buddhist and Muslim protesters.

Pol Lt-Gen Jettanakorn said police were negotiating with demonstrators to get them to call off their protests. He said authorities were ready to listen to all sides and were prepared to treat the issues fairly.

He also said he was in the middle of talks with the Region 4 army commander about calls from villagers for the authorities to repeal the curfew in place in Bannang Sata and Yaha districts as well as the emergency decree that has been in place since July 2005.

Some 2,000 extra police officers were also dispatched to the strife-torn region on Wednesday ahead of the opening of the new school term this month, he added.

Meanwhile, the body of a Muslim man was found floating in the Patani river in Yala’s Muang district yesterday morning. The cause of death had yet to be determined.

Elsewhere, two schools in Krong Pinang sub-district were set alight early yesterday morning.

In a separate incident, a man was shot dead along with his young daughter and son in his house in Than To district on Friday.

In Bannang Sata district, an assistant to a village headman was gunned down yesterday on his way home.

In Yala’s Muang district, two border rangers and a two-year-old girl were killed in a roadside bomb attack near a local bridge in Yala municipality yesterday evening.

The rangers were patrolling the area when the bomb was detonated by mobile phone.

The dead rangers were identified as Pol Sgt Songsak Taviso, 40, and Sgt Maj Taweechai Wongwichai, 38. The two, together with the girl, died of their injuries at Yala Hospital.

The aunt of the girl, who was driving the motorcycle they were riding, was seriously injured while another ranger sustained minor injuries.