Sent by Wantanee in Bangkok
Suspected separatists yesterday beheaded two old men in an apparent attempt to increase communal tensions between Muslims and Buddhists in southern Thailand, officials said.
“This is a very terrible thing. These harmless men were brutally murdered by callous attackers,” said Pattani police chief major general Korkiat Wongworrachat.
The two men, aged 81 and 71, were attacked in their small houses by people from outside the district intent on fomenting a “race war” between ethnic Thais and ethnic Malays, Korkiat said.
The men’s houses were set ablaze after they were killed, he added. Two schools in the area were also torched at around the same time and an electricity pole toppled in an attempt to impede security forces investigating the deaths.
The killings came a day after two health workers eating lunch were shot dead in the same Yarang district.
The chief of the health centre, Archara Skonthawut, 44, and a colleague, Benjapat sae Tin, 37, were gunned down after intruders had chased away a third health worker who was a Muslim.
This was the first attack on a health centre in this decade’s upsurge of fighting. All four dead were Buddhists.
“These utterly defenceless people were not a threat to anyone but they were killed anyway,” said Korkiat.
He suggested that the separatists, who are a shadowy but deadly presence in Thailand’s deep south – comprising Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces – may have been rattled by big military sweeps being carried out in recent weeks in an effort to stop the insurgency gathering even more momentum.
According to the Thai military, the southern insurgents are intent on turning the conflict into a civil war in the hopes that the violence will escalate to the point that the United Nations intervenes.
Nearly 80% of the 2mn people living in the three southernmost provinces profess to be Muslims, making the Thai Buddhists of the deep south a minority community in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.
The three-province area, which borders Malaysia, comprised an independent sultanate known as Pattani for hundreds of years before being conquered by Bangkok in 1786. The area came under direct rule of the Bangkok bureaucracy in 1902