- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

From combined dispatches


A Thai court has sen- tenced three Muslim teachers to 10 years each in prison on rebellion and crim-inal conspiracy charg- es related to their membership in an Islamic separatist group, but acquitted them of murder charges in a 2004 bombing, their attorney said.

The provincial court of Pattani, in southern Thailand, found Aduenan Seng, 26, Abhisit Mahama, 23, and Abdullah Dueramae, 31, guilty Wednesday of the charges in connection with actions planned while they were members of the New Pattani United Liberation Organization, or New PULO, said Anukul Awaeputeh, their attorney.

However, the three were acquitted of murder charges connected with a bomb planted near a market in the city of Pattani on Jan. 5, 2004, that killed two police explosives specialists trying to defuse it.

The court found insufficient evidence to prove that the three men were involved in planting the bomb, Mr. Anukul said, adding that all three would appeal their convictions.

More than 1,800 people have died in violence in Thailand’s three southernmost, Muslim-majority provinces — Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat — since an Islamic insurgency flared in January 2004.

Southern Muslims have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Buddhist majority, especially in jobs and education.

In the latest violence, a village headman, Da-oh Kadasae, was fatally shot by two men Wednesday as he was riding his motorcycle in Yala’s Raman district.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont has made numerous visits to the rebellious south.

Last week, he met with more than 1,000 public school teachers in Yala and vowed to take a measured approach to reconcile Muslims and Buddhists.

He was slated to visit the south again yesterday, primarily to give moral support to about 200 Buddhists who fled their village and took refuge at a Buddhist temple for fear of being attacked by Muslim insurgents.

Gen. Surayud has publicly apologized for the hard-line approach of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister, to the insurgency.

“The government’s demonstration of its sincerity to resolve the problem has won many hearts and minds,” said security analyst Panitan Wattanayagorn, of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference, which had slammed Mr. Thaksin for his brute-force policies, has accepted the apology and offered help to bring peace to the violence-racked far south.

However, the insurgents, whose organization remains largely a mystery and who never claim responsibility for attacks or state their aims out loud, reacted with an intensified wave of violence.

In the past week, insurgents have killed and injured more than 30 civilians in targeted attacks in the country’s southern provinces, Human Rights Watch said in a report yesterday.

“Insurgent groups are targeting civilians to show their power and highlight the Thai government’s weakness,” said Brad Adams, director of the rights group’s Asia division. “But it’s illegal, and morally indefensible, to attack civilians in pursuit of political goals.”

Gen. Surayud has acknowledged that it will take time to see any results from his peace offensive in a region where 80 percent of the people speak a Malay dialect and many are resentful of abusive or culturally ignorant Buddhist officials.

“I have asked for two months to work, after that you can evaluate how well this government has performed. So no criticism for now,” he said.

Much of the hope centers on the revival of a multiagency body abolished by Mr. Thaksin, ousted in a Sept. 19 coup, despite its success in keeping the peace in a region subject to periodic rebellions against predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

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