Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Muslim violence: Teachers in South Thailand risking life every day - report

Thai police officers inspect the body of a teacher who was shot dead by suspected separatist Muslim militants as he was travelling to work on a motorcycle in Thailand's restive southern province of Narathiwat on September 7, 2010

While most victims are Buddhists, Malay Muslim teachers have also come under attack, even those at Islamic private schools.

"The result is that students - girls and boys - must try to get an education alongside large numbers of armed men," the report adds.

Teachers, principals and students told HRW of raids carried out by security forces in the past years where students were tied up, spat on and taken into custody.

About a year or two ago ~ the Thai Islamic militants took to riding around schools on motorbikes and threatening teachers and pupils with machetes. This all about establishing Islam / an Islamic state in the region. Muslims are attacked if they work for the Thai government.

Over 100 teachers have been killed since January 2004 and another hundred or so have been injured, the report says. Dozens of education personnel ranging from administrators to janitors have also been killed and there have been 327 arson attacks on schools in the same period.

BANGKOK, Oct 4 (AlertNet) - "I turned and found a gun pressed against my cheek. When the trigger was pulled, the impact of the bullet spun my body around, and I was shot on the other side of the head."

These are the words of a Malay Muslim teacher from Thailand's volatile south - one of the most dangerous places in the world to teach, according to the author of a new report on violence in the region.

The teacher, who was shot by Muslim insurgents in 2009, still has a bullet lodged in his skull. He lost a finger and has been left with a shattered jaw and mutilated tongue.

The gunmen attacked him because they were unhappy with him for working at a government school. He had previously been warned by paramilitary rangers to "be careful".

The shooting is documented in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report as an example of how teachers and schools are stuck in the middle between separatists and government forces in the long-running insurgency in the southern provinces bordering Malaysia.

The report, Targets of Both Sides, says actions by both parties greatly harm children's education and contribute to the already low quality of schooling brought about by historical inequalities.

"Southern Thailand is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a teacher," Bede Sheppard, author of the report, told AlertNet.

"Being a teacher in these provinces means putting your life on the line every day."

Over 100 teachers have been killed since January 2004 and another hundred or so have been injured, the report says. Dozens of education personnel ranging from administrators to janitors have also been killed and there have been 327 arson attacks on schools in the same period.

Most recently, two teachers were gunned down in Narathiwat province in early September, leading to the closure of all public schools in the province for three days.

CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE
The southernmost Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat were part of a Muslim sultanate before it was annexed by predominantly Buddhist Thailand a century ago. About 80 percent of the people in the region are Muslim and speak a Malay dialect.

More than 4,100 people - mainly civilians - have been killed in over six years of unrest as ethnic Malay Muslims fight for autonomy.

The report, published in late September, features harrowing stories of threat, intimidation, arson attacks and police raids. It says insurgents appear to target schools because they see them as symbols of the Thai state, oppression and indoctrination.

They have "threatened and killed teachers, burned and bombed government schools, and spread terror among students and their parents", the rights group said in a statement.

While most victims are Buddhists, Malay Muslim teachers have also come under attack, even those at Islamic private schools.

Meanwhile, Thai army and paramilitary forces are disrupting education and placing students at unnecessary risk of insurgent attack by occupying schools for long periods as bases for their counterinsurgency operations, HRW says.

"The result is that students - girls and boys - must try to get an education alongside large numbers of armed men," the report adds.

This usually leads to an exodus of students for fear of insurgent attacks or harassment, while those remain suffers from a deterioration of their education due to increased tension.

VIOLATIONS FROM BOTH SIDES
"For many children ... it can be incredibly traumatic for them to watch their schools burn down before their very eyes, or to lose one of their teachers," Sheppard says.

In addition to the loss of life and property, school closures following attacks disrupt children's education, generate fear among the general population and lead to a high teacher turnover. Some parents end up transferring their children to schools further from their homes.

In response to increasingly brutal attacks, the Thai government has stepped up security measures, although a combined police and military security force of around 60,000 has failed to make any inroads in quelling the unrest.

Worse, they have "carried out extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture of people alleged to be involved with separatist groups", says HRW.

The attacks have worsened since an emergency decree came into force in 2005, which provides security personnel and government officials with effective immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liability, the report adds.

Teachers, principals and students told HRW of raids carried out by security forces in the past years where students were tied up, spat on and taken into custody.

The report says abusive officials in the southern border provinces have rarely been punished, even in well-documented and high-profile cases, which has fuelled the insurgency.

"Violations by both sides in the conflict disrupt access to a quality education for hundreds of thousands of children in the southern border provinces - Thai Buddhist and Malay Muslim alike."

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