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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 11:07 GMT
Thai arrests anger local Muslims
Thai Muslims pray at a mosque in Pattani province, southern Thailand
Local Muslims deny any part in the violence
Two Muslim teachers are among suspects detained by Thai authorities in connection with a series of attacks on the country's south this week.

The detention of Muhamad Hayeewea Sohor and Santi Sama-ae, of Suwannakorn school in Pattani province, has angered Muslim faithful in the area.

Government officials have blamed Muslim militants for the attacks, which killed six soldiers and police.

The Bangkok Post quoted a source as saying both men denied any involvement.

"We got the right men," Defence Minister Thammarak Isarangkura na Ayudhaya told reporters regarding the two detained teachers.

"We are searching for evidence to file formal charges," he said.

Home to most of Thailand's 4% Muslim minority
Muslim rebels fought the government up to the mid-80s
Government downplays any separatist threat, calling them bandits

Mr Thammarak said they belonged to the Bersatu, or United, separatist group.

Police say Bersatu is an umbrella name for a number of separatist groups, including the Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani, which government security adviser General Kitti Rattanachaya named on Thursday as to blame for the attacks.

General Kitti said that Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani had links to al-Qaeda and the regional network Jemaah Islamiah.

His comments were at odds with previous claims the attacks were linked to banditry.

Local anger

Community leaders have warned that a government response which is too strong could cause a backlash in the south.

Thai Muslims attending Friday prayers in Pattani voiced their frustration that members of their community were being blamed for the violence, which included co-ordinated arson on several schools and an arms depot raid at the weekend.

"Today I'm praying for the two of them [the teachers]. They didn't do it," retired elementary school teacher Yapa Barahaeng, 56, told the French news agency AFP.

Yusef Sama-aeng, a member of the Central Mosque committee, said the authorities were focusing on the wrong people.

"The government has so many soldiers, but they don't arrest the right people. And when the violence erupts, we take the blame," he said.

Up to 30 people have been reported to have been arrested over the violence.

Three southern provinces - Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat - have been put under martial law.

The BBC's Kylie Morris
"Throughout Thailand there is shock at the extent of the violence"

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Timeline: Thailand
17 Dec 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Thailand
01 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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