Despite their minimal weaponry, almost all of them were killed ?slaughtered by the security forces. To escape the carnage, 32 of the ?rebels? took shelter in one of the oldest and most important mosques in the country, located on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Pattani. After a six-hour stand-off, troops stormed the mosque, indiscriminately killing everyone inside. Overall, at least 107 rebels and 5 soldiers died during the battle.
The Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, immediately labelled the insurgents as ?criminals?, playing down any religious or ideological motives, and vowing to smash ?the ring of troublemakers?. Army chief General Chaiyasidh Shinawatra admitted that the intelligence services had been tipped off in advance of the attacks ? there is no doubt that that the security forces were expecting trouble and were prepared for a violent response.
PM Thaksin clearly belongs to the breed of populist politicians in the region who believe that any member of an insurgency, as well as any drug dealer, deserves the same treatment: extrajudicial execution.
Inevitably, the security forces went out of their way to deliver the goods. Their work ethic increased dramatically – undeniably confirmed by the piles of bodies of alleged drug dealers, many of whom were destitute illegal immigrants from Cambodia and elsewhere. Strangely, almost no ?drug dealers? were captured alive. Many analysts considered that the security forces were simply murdering defenceless poor people in order to earn extra cash.
How can Thailand get away with all this and still preserve its reputation as a calm and friendly country? Probably the main reason is the Western media?s historical reluctance to criticise a country that has been for decades a dependable servant of the West, and particularly of the United States.
It did plenty of dirty work for the US in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia ? operations that couldn?t gain approval even from the US Congress.
This time, the government and security forces? harsh approach may yet backfire. The situation in the south is tense and explosive, and the provinces where the insurgency occurred are poor and desperate. It is obvious that not all attempts to solve the stand-off peacefully were exhausted. In fact, it is doubtful that there were any attempts at all. To the majority of Muslims, the desecration of the mosque and the merciless slaughter on its premises are a deep and barbaric affront to Islam.
Relations between Thailand and Malaysia remain tense. Worldwide, and in Southeast Asia in particular, these are uncertain and difficult times – it is quite possible that the large Muslim community in the countries of this region will act unpredictably. The worst one can do is to stir passions and escalate conflicts.
ANDRE VLTCHEK – a writer, journalist, filmmaker, chief editor of WCN. Presently resides in Southeast Asia. His latest book of non-fiction is called “From Potosi to Baghdad”. Recently finished work on the documentary film about Suharto’s dictatorship in Indonesia. Presently writing a book with Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He can be reached at: [email protected]