- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

BANGKOK — Muslim militants are warning the “people of the world” not to visit Phuket, a wealthy, tourist playground thus far untouched by the Muslim insurgency of southern Thailand.

Phuket island, with floating bars set amid lush resorts with meticulously coifed foliage, rustic wooden bridges, stone paths and palm trees, remains untouched by the militants. But a recent harsh warning by the United Front for the Independence of Pattani, a feared guerrilla group usually referred to as Bersatu, included Phuket.

It was posted on the “official Web site” of the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO), which forms part of the united front along with the Mujahideen Pattani Movement and two smaller rebel groups.

The unusual, one-paragraph “message from Bersatu” said: “Dear people of the world, persons who plan to visit Thailand NOW are warned not to travel to Pattani Raya Region Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun, Songkhla and the neighbor provinces [of] Phuket, Pangnga, Krabi, Pattalung. Pattani people are not responsible for anything [that] happens to you after this warning.”

Thailand’s worst day of bloodshed in decades occurred on April 28 in the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Songkhla, where Thai troops clashed with Islamic militants, killing at least 107.

Pattani’s small Krue Se mosque became a blood-spattered slaughterhouse when Thai troops killed all 32 persons inside.

Three policemen and two soldiers also died in the scattered clashes, bringing the one-day death toll to at least 112.

Phuket is northwest of that troubled area and is Thailand’s jewel, a place so prosperous that it enjoys a virtual parallel economy compared to the rest of the country.

Pangnga and Krabi also attract tourists, including international backpackers seeking cheap natural splendor, freaky rock formations and hedonistic outdoor parties.

The insurgents’ warning was not dated and did not indicate why it was posted, but apparently the bloodshed in April angered the shadowy, illegal group.

The only other announcement in English on the Web site was a plea by the group “urging the Thai authorities to investigate at least 60 people [who] disappeared” during security sweeps between Jan. 5 and April 9.

That demand was signed by the group’s deputy president, Lukman B. Lima, who was believed to be in exile in Sweden.

In May 2003, Mr. Lima boasted Thai security forces were “falling like leaves” in southern Thailand because Muslims were rising up in “liberation movements” against “colonial” repression practiced by Thailand’s majority Buddhists.

Thailand’s Islamic guerrillas are too weak to occupy any territory, so they unleash surprise attacks and rapidly disperse, hitting targets in the south such as police and army posts, government buildings, Buddhist temples, plantations and nightclubs. They often kill people at the sites with machetes or other light weapons.

They have burned dozens of government schools, which teach a Thai curriculum loathed by the minority ethnic Malay rebels who prefer the Yawi dialect of Malay language and religious lessons in Arabic.

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