- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

BANGKOK — Thailand’s prime minister angrily told the Saudi Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to “read the Koran” before criticizing his crackdown on Muslim terrorists in the south, where more than 1,000 people have died.

“I would like him to read the Koran, which stated clearly that all Muslims, regardless where they live, must respect the law of that land,” Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday, in remarks aimed at OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

“This means the Koran wants Muslims to live peacefully with people of other religions,” Mr. Thaksin said, referring to Islam’s sacred text, which believers regard as God’s revelations.

Mr. Thaksin, a Buddhist, has been struggling to contain the rapidly escalating violence in southern Thailand, where most of this nation’s minority Muslims live.

“All Thai people are tired of the violence and want to see peace. I will do everything, by all means, to end the violence,” Mr. Thaksin said.

“Such criticisms contained in the Muslim organization’s communique is considered most inappropriate.”

The prime minister’s outburst, during his weekly press conference, came after Mr. Ihsanoglu said that the OIC was deeply concerned “about continued acts of violence in southern Thailand against Muslims, claiming the lives of innocent civilians, and inflicting harm on properties.”

Mr. Ihsanoglu’s official OIC statement, issued in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, did not mention the Muslim terrorist attacks on Buddhists.

Hundreds of Buddhist civilians — including businessmen, commuters, plantation workers and clergy — have died alongside Muslim civilians in the south, in addition to mostly Buddhist troops and Muslim insurgents.

“Some villages have been under siege, and some families had to migrate,” the OIC said, referring to 131 Muslims who recently fled from Narathiwat province across the border into Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Malaysia has since criticized Thailand over the plight of the 131 Muslims, causing relations between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok to deteriorate in recent days.

Bangkok must “reach a peaceful settlement of the legitimate demands of the Muslim Thai citizens in southern Thailand” and allow them to “manage their local affairs through participation guaranteed by the Thai Constitution, within the framework of respect for territorial integrity of Thailand,” Mr. Ihsanoglu said.

The violence in Thailand’s southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala has left more than 1,000 people dead since January 2004, when suspected Islamic insurgents burned down 21 schools, raided a military base, killed several people and escaped with hundreds of weapons.

The self-styled mujahiedeen are demanding an end to perceived persecution and discrimination by Bangkok and a separate homeland in the south.

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