When 1,300 protestors were carted away by Thailand police after a demonstration in that country’s southern provinces (demanding the release of six people accused of stealing military weapons for militants), 78 of them were found suffocated in the back of an army truck on their way to a military facility. The incident pushed the death toll from banditry and political violence in southern Thailand to over 400 this year (couldn’t tell from Phuket, could ya?) and sent the stock market down over 3%. Although Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra expressed little sympathy for the victims (“It’s about bodies made weak from fasting. Nobody hurt them.”), he later expressed regret and ordered an inquiry into the deaths (why not?). Shinawatra has blamed drug runners and bandits for local violence in the past, but now has pointed the finger at separatists (who, naturally, made threats of their own in response). The incident has sparked outrage in Thailand’s press and has exacerbated tensions with neighbouring Muslim countries and the Muslim populations of Thailand’s three southern provinces. Muslims in that region, closely related to Malays, have waged an intermittent campaign for independence, which has Malaysia concerned as well (the area was annexed by Thailand in 1902). The high profile incident risks turning a low-level insurrection into a Chechnya-like campaign. “What we worry most about is the future,” said Dr Charan Maluleem, advisor to the Prime Minister on Muslim affairs. “If you ask what the future holds, most Muslims will say it is very uncertain”. Added Abdulraman Abdulsamad, chairman of a local Islamic council, “I cannot say what [is] going to happen, but I believe that hell will break out.”
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.