- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

BANGKOK — The United States has delivered 30 refurbished helicopters to Thailand to help it fight Muslim militants in the south and guard against drug trafficking in the north.

“We know you will make good use of these UH-1s, as you have the Black Hawks you have purchased [during] the past several years, and which we hope will be the long-term future of army aviation in Thailand,” U.S. Ambassador Darryl N. Johnson said while announcing the delivery of the helicopters at the Royal Thai Army Aviation Center in Lopburi province yesterday.

The helicopters, plus spare parts and training, are part of a $30 million deal signed in 2001, the U.S. Embassy said.

Thailand’s Muslim militants have been blamed for almost daily attacks against Thai security forces, Buddhist clergy, businessmen, plantation workers, teachers and civilians in the south.

Bangkok has poured hundreds of extra troops into the area to guard Buddhist temples and schools and to beef up patrols, but militants have continued their attacks using machetes, assault rifles, home-made bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

The worst day of violence in Thailand’s recent history was April 28 when Thai security forces, backed by armored personnel carriers and helicopters, killed 38 suspected Islamist militants inside the Krue Se mosque in the southern city of Pattani, plus about 70 other Muslim fighters in scattered clashes.

Five Thai security force soldiers also died, bringing the day’s total death toll to 113.

Yesterday, gunmen killed a policeman and a state official in the south, police said, a day after authorities arrested eight Muslims suspected of planning attacks on state property and officials, Reuters news agency reported.

A gunman on a motorcycle shot a 37-year-old Buddhist traffic policeman as he drove to work in Pattani province and a Muslim official was fatally shot while riding his motorcycle to collect electricity payments in nearby Yala province, police said.

About 95 percent of Thailand’s population is Buddhist, but Muslims form a majority in the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun and Songkhla, much of which is currently under martial law.

Shortly after the April bloodshed, the Thai government described the violence as an “internal” problem caused by Thai Muslim “militants” and not linked to foreign terrorists.

International and Thai human rights groups, however, criticized Bangkok for appearing to use excessive force when hunting down Muslim suspects.

They also criticized Thailand for its “war on drugs,” which resulted in more than 2,000 deaths last year. Most of the deaths were described by officials as smugglers killing each other.

Bangkok successfully suppressed much of its earlier opium and heroin production, but still must contend with smugglers who bring those narcotics from Burma into northern Thailand for domestic use and for international syndicates.

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