Thailand: Separatists target civilians in attacks, rights group

New York, 29 August (AKI) - Militants are killing or mutilating a growing number of civilians in their bid to establish a separate Islamic state in southern Thailand, according to a new report.

The international agency, Human Rights Watch, said the insurgency had intensified in the past three years with horrific attacks against civilians in the predominantly Muslim provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla.

The organisation said separatist militants had carried out 3,000 attacks on civilians between January 2004 and July 2007, and another 500 attacks on military personnel.

It also said extremists were executing civilians based on their ethnicity.

"After decades of low-intensity insurgency, Thailand's southern region is becoming the scene of a brutal armed conflict," said Brad Adams, Asian director of Human Rights Watch.

"Separatist militants are intentionally targetting both Buddhist and Muslim civilians in shootings, bombings and machete attacks."

Almost 2,500 people have been killed in attacks in the region since 2004 and almost 90 percent were civilians. At least 29 victims have been beheaded and mutilated, the report said.

There has been unrest for many years in the Muslim-majority provinces, annexed by Thailand a century ago, but attacks have increased in a fresh wave of violence since 2004.

According to the report, "No One is Safe: Insurgent Attacks on Civilians in Thailand's Southern Border Provinces", militants have been orchestrating a broad campaign of violence and fear.

Schools, community clinics - even Buddhist temples were being targetted in a bid by the militants to end what they call a Buddhist Thai occupation.

"Violence against civilians is being used by separatist militants to scare Buddhist Thais away from these provinces, keep ethnic Malay Muslims under control, and discredit the Thai authorities," he said.

The report draws on eyewitness accounts and interviews with victims, academics, lawyers and government officials.

Human Rights Watch said the interim government of General Surayud Chulanont, installed in a military coup last year, had signalled a new approach to the conflict

The Thai government has deployed more than 30,000 troops to the region and security forces have been accused of rights violations such as extra-judicial killings and arbitrary arrests.

The report called on separatists to end all attacks on civilians and said any radical interpretation of Islamic law was unacceptable and outside international humanitarian law.

The group called on both the militants and the Thai government to institute concrete measures to protect civilians.


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