CRISIS IN SOUTH
Horrific slaying outrages villagers
Dozens of Buddhists parade charred body of woman, 26, shot and set alight in Yala
About 200 people yesterday paraded the charred remains of a Buddhist woman through the streets of the provincial capital to protest the unending violence in the deep South.
Meanwhile critics slammed the Army for defending the shooting deaths of four unarmed Muslim youths by village defence volunteers.
Angry villagers wrapped the body of Patcharaporn Boonmart, 26, in a white cloth and placed it at the foot of the steps leading to the government building where Army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin was meeting with community leaders.
The villagers said they wanted to show Sonthi how gruesome the attacks have become and to demand more safety for the Buddhist minority in the restive region.
"Eight Buddhists have been killed and burned like this on the same road. All the victims were from our village," one of the deceased's relatives told reporters.
Sonthi told them he was working with local officials to find ways of reducing the daily violence that has claimed more than 2,000 lives since the end of 2003. "I promise that we will do everything possible to protect innocent villagers better," Sonthi said.
Tensions have mounted after a group of government-backed village defence volunteers shot dead four Muslim youths and wounded six others late Monday afternoon following a shouting match.
Army spokesman Colonel Akara Thiprot said the volunteers were justified to fire at the 20-odd Muslim youths because they had sticks and stones in their hands.
Ahmed Somboon Bualuang, a community leader and former academic, said he was concerned that the strife was moving towards communal violence and accused the government of ignoring early warning signs that could it develop into sectarian violence.
"What the Army did was give support and justification for the kind of action we should be trying to prevent," he said.
"A person [Col Akara] in such a position should have a better
understanding of the consequences of his statement. I'm not sure if it was intended or it was just pure incompetence." Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch's local
representative, questioned the
authority's rules of engagement.
"It doesn't matter if they are voluntary security personnel or members of the national army, they must be subject to legal responsibility and the military code of conduct," he said.
The fact that the paramilitary squads were "volunteer forces" does not mean they are subject to different rules and legal obligations, he said.
The government and the Army have placed a lot of faith in the militia, whose members get about one month of training before they are dispatched to the field, but they have overlooked the complexity of the insurgency, he said.
Worawit Baru, an associate professor from the Prince of Songkhla University at Pattani, said recent incidents involving rangers suggested the Army has given them more of a free hand to employ questionable tactics. "Many of these incidents have gone unanswered," he said, pointing to the grenade attacks and shooting spree at an Islamic boarding school in Tambon Taseh, Songkhla's Saba Yoi and the Yaha Dawa Centre in Yala.
Meanwhile Buddhist enclaves in downtown Yala are putting up metal gates in front of their sois as a security measure.
In nearby Pattani province, five Revenue Department officials were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their van.