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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 07:06 GMT 08:06 UK
Analysis: Thailand's Muslim divide
By Tony Cheng
BBC, Bangkok

The Krue Se mosque in Pattani, scene of the final bloody shoot-out after Wednesday's attacks, is meant to be a sign of religious harmony in Thailand's southern Muslim provinces.

It sits next to a Buddhist shrine which legend tells was built by the sister of the Chinese convert to Islam who founded the mosque.

Soldier outside Krue Se mosque
Images like this may only fuel discontent

But the story also tells of how the sister cursed the mosque when her brother refused to renounce his Islamic faith.

Although construction began in 1578, the mosque was never completed.

It is a prophetic story that illustrates how uncomfortable the historical relationship between Muslims and Buddhists has been in this region.

The Thai provinces of Songkhla, Pattani and Yala sit directly on the border with Malaysia, and as well as marking a national boundary, this is the point at which the religious division of South-East Asia moves from being predominantly Buddhist to predominantly Muslim.

Over 100 years ago the kings of Siam absorbed the Islamic kingdom of Pattani into their territory.

Many people see this as the start of the region's Muslim insurgency.

Others point to much more modern reasons for the problems in the south.

The three provinces have certainly failed to capitalise on the economic boom that has swept through the rest of Thailand in recent years.

Academics say the government has not accommodated the needs of the local community and loan schemes intended to promote development have excluded Muslims.

Muslim scholars also say that this has led to an increase in the dissemination of more radical Islamic beliefs among young people.

They point to Thailand's active participation in the war against terror, and the presence of Thai troops in Iraq, as fuel for this radicalisation.

Thailand's government has seemed uncertain who to blame.

Various officials have blamed Muslim insurgents - sometimes saying they were localised, other times saying they were operating from across the border in Malaysia - or bandits running lucrative smuggling routes over the border.

But so far the government has failed to find any solution for the troubles in the south and the scars left by Wednesday's attacks will take a very long time to heal.

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Timeline: Thailand
26 Mar 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Thailand
01 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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