Thailand criticises Islamic agency's assessment of insurgency

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Thailand's Foreign Ministry yesterday expressed its disappointment over the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) resolution on the situation in the restive South, which said Thailand had made no progress on peace restoration.

The OIC resolution, issued after its foreign ministers' meeting from November 15-17 in Djibouti, did not reflect the efforts made by the government over the past years, said Vice Foreign Minister Jullapong Nonsrichai, who headed Thai delegation at the meeting.

The resolution for the Muslim minority in a non-Muslim country raised its concern over "meagre progress" achieved by the Thai government since issuance of a joint statement with the organisation in 2007.

The OIC, in the resolution, also regretted the continued use of the emergency law in most southern areas and the limited progress in introducing the language of the local population (Malayu) as a language of instruction in the schools of the south.

The resolution noted the continued extensive military presence of armed forces throughout the southern border provinces and its negative impact on the population's normal life. It expressed concern at the mounting reliance on undisciplined paramilitary militias accused of committing illegal acts, and warned of its consequences on increasing ethnic and religious polarisation.

The OIC called on the government to work vigorously to reach a just and permanent solution to the problem, in accordance with the 2007 Joint Press Communique. It wanted the authority to hold a dialogue with the leaders of Muslims to reach a solution allowing the realisation of the legitimate rights of Muslims in the deep South.

Jullapong, who joined the meeting on behalf of Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul, said he had spent a lot of time meeting with key persons of the organisation, including OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, to explain the government's plan and effort to bring peace and development in the predominantly Muslim region.

However, the resolution after the meeting did not reflect what he had explained and the development of the situation on the ground, Jullapong said.

Violence in the deep south has killed some 5,000 people since the beginning of 2004, but the government was still struggling to contain it. Insurgents have launched indiscriminate attacks on all, including soft targets such as public schools and teachers.

Nopporn Makkongkaew, the director of Education Zone 1 in Pattani, said the blaze at the Bang Maruad 1 School in Bang Maruad village in Pattani's Panare district, would severely affect the morale of teachers in the Southern province.

Nopporn said the fire severely damaged a school building and many school equipment were damaged.

He said police had yet to establish the cause of the fire, whether it was an accident or an arson attack.

The blaze broke out early yesterday, completely destroying a two-storeyed building housing the director's office, computer rooms and 11 classrooms.

Ten students and teachers were camping in the building opposite when fire broke out at around 1am at Bangmaruet School in Panare district but no one was injured.

Police did not rule out the possibility that the blaze was caused by an electrical fault, as it reportedly started in a computer room on the second floor and there was no sign of a forced break-in.

Initial investigation showed that 20 computers, 10 notebooks and 50 new laptops as well as chairs and tables kept in the building were totally destroyed.

The Education Zone 1 is in charge of 140 schools in four districts of Nongchik, Panare, Yaring and Muang. He said the schools were in dangerous areas and could be attacked by insurgents.

Noppoarn said all sides were trying hard to rebuild teachers' confidence so that schools in Pattani could be reopened as soon as possible.

"All sides will evaluate the situation and will assess security measures to try to protect teachers with all efforts. The measure will respond to the landscape in each village," Nopporn said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she has dispatched Deputy Education Minister Sermsak Pongpanit to the deep south to evaluate the situation after 300 schools in Pattani were closed following a series of attacks on teachers.

"I have to wait for more information from Sermsak first," Yingluck said, declining to further comment on the issue.

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