BANGKOK: Separatists have killed 135 teachers in southern Thailand over the past eight years in their efforts to rid the region of “Siamese infidels”, a human rights group said today.
Since January 2004, insurgents in Thailand’s southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala have deliberately targeted school teachers in their fight against Thai rule.
“Southern Thailand is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a teacher,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Bede Sheppard said.
A report titled “Targets of Both Sides: Violence Against Students, Teachers and School in Thailand’s Southern Border Provinces”, said 135 school officials had been killed and 121 injured.
“The insurgents’ practice of shooting teachers and burning schools shows incredible depravity,” said Sheppard.
HRW urged Thai authorities to collaborate more closely with teachers and principals in the region to ensure protection.
It said 324 arson attacks on government schools had been recorded in the region since January 2004, when a long-simmering separatist movement took a more violent turn.
HRW interviewed 90 people including insurgents, soldiers, teachers and students, and visited 19 southern schools. The report concluded that the rebels deliberately targeted teachers in both government and Islamic schools as part of its insurgency.
The attacks aimed “to destroy the economic, political and educational system of Siamese infidels here”, according to objectives stated in the separatists’ documents, the report said. Siam is the old name for Thailand.
The human rights group also faulted the military for using public schools as bases for its troops, a practice that made them targets for insurgent attacks and did little for the reputation of soldiers.
“We talked to students who expressed annoyance about the security officers asking them for the telephone numbers of their older sisters,” Sheppard said.
There are an estimated 30,000 regular and paramilitary troops in the region with a population of about two million, 80 percent of whom are Muslims.
Of the 1,640 registered schools in the region, 1,002 are public, 161 are private Islamic schools and 391 are pondoks or private schools providing only religious Islamic education.
Earlier this month, authorities temporarily closed 465 public schools in Narathiwat after two teachers were shot dead in the province, about 750 km south of Bangkok.
According to army sources, about 4,100 people have died in the conflict in the region over the past eight years.
Centuries ago, the region was the independent Islamic sultanate of Pattani. It was conquered by Bangkok about 200 years ago but has never wholly submitted to Thai rule.