BANGKOK, Sept. 28 (UPI) — Human rights group Amnesty International slammed rebels in southern Thailand for deliberately targeting civilians in what could be considered war crimes.
For the past 7 1/2 years armed and organized ethnic Malays — nearly all Muslims — have been fighting the officially and predominantly Buddhist Thai state. Around 5,000 people have been killed and thousands injured.
Amnesty’s 64-page report “Unlawful Killings in Thailand’s Southern Insurgency,” based on extensive interviews with victims of violence in four southernmost provinces, heavily criticized the rebels for attacking what it called soft targets.
These targets include “farmers, house workers, teachers, students, religious leaders, monks, civil servants or persons with vague or tenuous affiliation with the security forces or counterinsurgency efforts.”
“Insurgents in southern Thailand are spreading terror among the civilian population by deliberately targeting people with no role in the conflict and no one is immune from attack,” said Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy director.
“The insurgents must publicly commit to stopping these unlawful killings immediately.”
The report is based on the testimony of 154 interviews with witnesses and survivors, relatives and friends of victims, conducted between October 2010 and last July.
The testimonies describe 66 insurgent attacks against civilians in three southern Thai districts: Rangae in Narathiwat province, Yarang in Pattani and Yaha in Yala. Killings also have been noted in parts of neighboring Songkhla province.
“Amnesty International calls on the insurgents to immediately cease attacks deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate attacks and other violations of international humanitarian law, many of which constitute war crimes,” the report said.
Amnesty also comes down heavily on the Thai security forces, accusing them of torturing suspected rebels and captured fighters.
“The region is still characterized by a culture of official impunity,” Guest said. “All unlawful killings, including those allegedly by security forces, must be independently investigated and acted upon.”
After an attack by insurgents on a military base in Narathiwat province in January, at least nine suspects detained by security forces reported they were tortured while in custody.
The report said no official has faced punishment for the tortures and other alleged human rights violations, including the October 2004 incident in Tak Bai district when 78 detainees died of suffocation while being transported by the military in tightly packed trucks.
A major issue against finding a solution to the protracted conflict is that the rebels’ demands aren’t clear.
Around 94 percent of population in the four provinces consider themselves Muslim but the ability to worship and carry out Islamic religious practices hasn’t been at issue, the report says.
There is reportedly a feeling by Malays of being discriminated against by other Thai nationals, despite their majority status.
Grievances have surrounded lack of recognition of educational degrees obtained at Islamic institutions abroad and the lack of ethnic Malays in local and national government.
The area remains economically poor and ethnic Malays believe the federal government in Bangkok is little interested in investing in the area.