The body of a beheaded police officer was found in southern Thailand today, a fellow officer said, in the latest deadly attack in 18 months of sectarian violence and the seventh beheading in the Muslim-dominated area since mid-June.
The violence in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, which officials blame on Islamic extremists, has claimed more than 880 lives since January last year.
Sgt Samphan Onyala, chief of the community police in Pattani province’s Yarang district, was beheaded today, when he was on his way to meet friends, said police Capt Wiphat Suwannarat.
A machete was found at the scene of the crime, Wiphat said, though Samphan’s head had not yet been recovered. Wiphat did not say whether the victim had been wearing his uniform when he was killed.
Before today’s attack, none of the beheading victims were military or police personnel. But all of the victims were Buddhists, and Thai officials believe the attacks are an attempt to terrorise Buddhists in the south into leaving the area.
“The insurgents are copying the beheadings from Iraq to scare the people away,” Defence Minister Gen Thammarak Isarangura told reporters before Samphan’s killing.
Thousands of residents, especially teachers, have already fled because of the almost daily attacks.
Teachers have been targeted as symbols of Thailand’s Buddhist establishment, and security forces routinely escort them to classes to guard against almost daily drive-by shootings and bombings.
Most of the roughly 34,500 Buddhist teachers working in the Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have either stopped working or have demanded to be transferred out of the troubled area, Education Minister Adisai Bodharamik said today.
“Teachers are fearful and demoralised because at least 24 teachers have been killed in recent months,” Adisai told reporters.
Adisai said he had directed education authorities to approve transfers for more than 2,700 teachers at government schools who have asked to be moved. They will be replaced with volunteers.
Separately, Rung Khaewdaeng, the deputy education minister, said the Cabinet had approved a ministry request to allow teachers in the southern provinces to carry guns.
The government will provide them with second-hand firearms and flak jackets, he said.
Between January and June 2005, more than 34,523 residents – mostly Buddhists - moved out of the southern provinces, household registration statistics say. About 360,000 Buddhists live among the roughly 1.3 million inhabitants of the three southernmost provinces.