Newsweek | Thailand’s Buddhists Take Up Arms Against Insurgency
A few hours’ drive from the white-sand beaches of Phuket—one of the world’s top tourist destinations—a deadly insurgency is terrorizing Thailand’s south. The separatist movement, made up of mostly ethnic-Malay Muslims, roils the region with daily threats of sectarian violence and has prompted many Buddhist villagers, and even some monks, to take up arms in self-defense. A series of coordinated bombings across two provinces on March 31 alone left 14 dead and hundreds injured.
The conflict has been gaining steam over the past eight years, even as the international community pays little attention. Since 2004, drive-by shootings, IED bombings, and point-blank assassinations have claimed some 5,000 lives in the country’s three restive southernmost provinces that border Malaysia, making the insurgency one of the world’s deadliest.
The insurgent groups rally around the belief that the provinces—where ethnic Malay Muslims are the majority—should be independent of Thailand, where more than 90 percent of the rest of the population is Buddhist. The insurgents’ preferred targets are Buddhists, especially those in the security forces or government, though they also kill fellow Muslims accused of not aligning with the separatist cause. They claim to have cells in 90 percent of southern villages; the boast, say security experts, is legitimate.