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Last Updated:  Friday, 21 March, 2003, 14:51 GMT
Thai Muslims protest at US war
By Kittipong Soonprasert
BBC, Yala, southern Thailand

Muslims in southern Thailand have started boycotting US-products and goods in protest against the US-led attack on Iraq.

Thai Muslims gathered in Bangkok in November 2001 to protest against the bombing of Afghanistan
Southern Thailand can feel like a separate country
Thai media showed images of protestors in southern Thailand emptying bottles of Pepsi in the streets as part of their boycott.

Leaders of the campaign said some Muslim-owned shops in the area have eagerly participated, putting signs up in their shop windows displaying their owners' stand.

The campaign is designed to show Thai Muslims' anger over the US' aggression towards their fellow Muslims in Iraq.

One local Muslim youth told me that this war is not justified.

"It is not approved by the UN. Most members of the security council are against it. The US act as if there is no rule in this world. We think it wants to destroy Muslims in Iraq."

A Muslim woman, a hotel manager who works in a five-star hotel in Pattani shared his views.

"I used to admire Bush for his strong leadership but I have changed my mind since the Afghanistan war. The attack on Iraq makes my bad feelings worse," she said.

Muslims are the biggest religious minority in largely Buddhist Thailand, numbering nearly 4% of the population.

They live all over the country but the deep south is where they are in the majority.

Most Muslims in the deep south are moderate... we will not see violent demonstrations like Indonesia or other Middle-Eastern countries
Peerayot Rahimmula, Muslim academic
The area is so unique that visitors from other parts of the country might sometimes feel they are in a foreign land.

Locals mostly wear traditional Muslim dress, mosques are everywhere, as well as signs in Arabic.

In the past, some Muslims groups wanted to break from Thailand and establish their own Islamic state.

Fierce fighting between the government and rebels was still breaking out sporadically right up until the mid-1980s.

The government then changed tactics, using political means instead of force, to solve the problem.

This resulted in a relatively stable peace.

But recent American-led attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq have increased local resentment.

Subdued anger

"Most Muslims in the deep south are moderate," said Peerayot Rahimmula, a Muslim academic at Songklanakarin University in southern Thailand.

Muslim women in the south of Thailand
Anger is bubbling under the surface in the south
"They might be angry over what happens in Iraq or Afghanistan but we will not see violent demonstrations like Indonesia or other Middle Eastern countries," he said.

But he warned that there might be teenagers and youths - incited by more extremist Muslims - who used violence to express their anger.

So far there have been no reports of violence towards American or other targets in the south of Thailand.

It feels like the anger, resentment and frustration are bubbling under the surface.

The boycott and some small rallies are the only signs of resentment shown by Muslims in Thailand.

Yesterday, the Chief of National Police pleaded to Muslims not to hold big demonstrations that might lead to unforeseen violence.

Another factor that might restrain some Muslims is that the current Interior Minister, Wanmoohamadnor Matha, is also a Muslim from the southern provinces.

Observers in the South believe that the Interior Minister might indirectly uses his influence among elders and scholars to keep Muslim protests in Thailand as peaceful as possible.

Some analysts believe that feelings among Muslim communities are having an impact on Thailand's standing on the war.

Although Thailand has declared itself an ally in the US 'war on terror', and has recently expelled Iraqi diplomats from the country, the government is keen to stress that it supported a UN solution to the conflict.

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