Buddhist chief beheaded in revenge for Muslim deaths

A Buddhist village chief was beheaded in Thailand's Narathiwat province
yesterday in an apparent revenge killing, a week after 78 Muslim
protesters were crushed to death en route to a military detention

The chief's death was the second beheading in a year of sectarian
violence in three predominantly Muslim provinces bordering Malaysia.
Almost 450 people have died in sporadic attacks, most of them policemen
or civil servants.

Police said that Jaran Torae, 58, went missing on Monday night and was
decapitated with a machete at about 8am, after being shot in the chest.
His head was found with a note, in a plastic fertiliser bag on the
roadside. His torso was retrieved later from a rubber plantation nearly
a mile away.

The message reportedly said: "This is revenge for the innocent Muslim
youths who were massacred at the Tak Bai protest. This was less than
what has been done to the innocent." On 25 October, a protest outside a
police station turned into a six-hour stand-off between security forces
and Muslim protesters demanding the release of six villagers suspected
of supplying weapons to militants. Seven protesters were shot dead and
78 of 1,300 men arrested for rioting were crushed to death or
suffocated after being loaded into military trucks.

Thaksin Shinawatra, the Prime Minister, is under pressure to stop
suppressing dissidents in the south. His comments that protesters who
died were weak because of Ramadan fasting provoked particular anger and
Islamic leaders feared retribution would follow. The Prime Minister
initially appeared to shrug off the condemnation of opposition
politicians and international human rights groups but later admitted
that his security forces had made mistakes. He ordered an investigation
after promising to heed royal advice to use a more "gentle approach".

Twenty people were wounded in separate bomb blasts on Friday last week,
and a task force of Thai senators has been dispatched to the south to
question detainees from the riot, at an army base in Pattani. Most of
the protesters have been released, and police will not press charges
for sedition, which carries a 20-year sentence. Instead, 58 Muslims,
mostly young men, will be charged with congregating unlawfully and
threatening officials. They face up to four years in jail.

On 28 April, 107 suspected Muslim militants were killed when they
attacked police positions in a failed effort to seize weapons. This
excessive use of force was also followed by the decapitation of an
assistant village chief in Narathiwat.

Narathiwat, and the neighbouring provinces of Pattani and Yala, used to
be strongholds of the separatist Pattani United Liberation
Organisation. At its peak, the Pulo had more than 20,000 militants, but
the movement disbanded after a government amnesty in the 1980s.

The government blames the recent attacks on local separatists inspired
by foreign Muslim extremists or educated at radical Islamic schools

By Jan McGirk, South-east Asia Correspondent 03 November 2004

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