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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 August 2006, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Search for justice in Thai south

Arshae Sani at her son's unmarked grave
Arshae Sani visits her son's grave every day
In the third of a series of articles from southern Thailand, the BBC's Kate McGeown meets people who have been personally affected by the ongoing insurgency, and follows their struggle for justice.

"When I found out my son was dead, I felt that everything had gone from my life," said Arshae Sani.

"If he'd died in a natural way, from a disease or an accident, I wouldn't be angry," she said. "But what happened to my son was the government's fault."

Arshae Sani's son, Mauseng, was one of 85 Muslims to die in Takbai on 25 October 2004 - one of the most defining events in the ongoing violence in the Thai south, which has its roots in an Islamic separatist campaign against the Buddhist authorities.

Some of the men were shot by security forces during a protest that turned violent, but most suffocated after being forced into army trucks and driven to a camp in the next province.

Their families maintain that their only crime was to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Protestors lie on the ground after a demonstration turned violent in southern Thailand (25/10/04)
The Takbai incident is one of the most notorious in recent years
Just 10 minutes down the road from Arshae Sani's home, a 21-year-old Buddhist man named Tanapon Kheuwkhem is another victim of this insurgency.

Late last year he was shot by two men on motorbikes, who came from the direction of Arshae Sani's Muslim village.

One bullet hit a nerve in his lower back, and he will never be able to walk properly again.

"I knew it might happen to me some day, because I was doing some work for the authorities," he said simply.

Grievances

There are people like Arshae Sani and Tanapon Kheuwkhem throughout Thailand's deep south, whose lives are blighted by the constant bombings and shootings.

But it is obvious that by far the greatest sense of grievance comes from the Muslim community - many of whom feel that even after an incident of the scale of Takbai, officials are refusing to treat them in the same way as their Buddhist neighbours.

"In my opinion it's because, in the past, the government didn't look after the local people here," said Narathiwat-based human rights lawyer Peerawat Praweenamai.

"They just sent officials from Bangkok, who did things for their own benefit, not that of the locals," he said. "The problem has exploded like a bomb."

Mr Peerawat and his colleagues are working on a string of cases, frequently for little pay, in an effort to help those around them.

One is a joint lawsuit filed by dozens of Takbai relatives, including Arshae Sani, which is currently being considered by the courts.

Tuan Droli working in his shop
We want justice - it's a short word but it has a lot of meaning
Tuan Droli, Tanyong Limo villager
Mr Peerawat has also been involved in helping the villagers of Tanyong Limo, many of whom are resentful of their treatment in the aftermath of the killing of two marines in their community centre late last year.

Local people blame insurgents for the deaths. But many of the villagers were taken for questioning by the police - some for long periods of time.

Local mechanic Tuan Droli was kept in jail for 27 days under an emergency decree - a controversial law passed late last year which gives the authorities increased power of arrest and detention.

"I'm really angry," he said, shaking his fist. "They just wanted me to confess, but what could I confess to? I didn't do anything.

"Now people think I'm guilty, so they don't bring their cars to my shop, and business isn't doing well."

Another person with a grievance against the authorities is Waemahadi Wae-dao, a doctor in Narathiwat who has recently been made a local senator.

In 2003 he was accused of being a member of the South East Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiah, as well as planning to bomb several embassies in Bangkok. After two years in jail, he was released due to lack of evidence.

"I'm still confused about exactly why they accused me," he said. "I have a feeling that some people in the government used me for their own purposes."

Forgive and forget?

Mr Peerawat insists that if the proper judicial process is followed, everyone in southern Thailand will get the same standard of justice, be they Muslim or Buddhist.

Tanapon Kheuwkhem
At just 21, Tanapon Kheuwkhem can never walk unaided again
But in the current climate of fear, where bombings and shootings happen almost every day, even lawyers themselves are not immune from the violence.

Human rights advocate Somchai Neelaphaijit went missing in 2004, and there is mounting evidence he was killed by government officials.

Mr Peerawat himself has had several anonymous phone calls asking him why he is helping the Tanyong Limo suspects, but he says that so far no one has managed to scare him.

According to Senator Waemahadi, the only way forward is for everyone to forgive, no matter what their grievances are.

"I'm not angry. I must forgive other people as my God forgives me," he said.

But others find it harder to be so magnanimous. "I feel like the authorities are not trying to fix the problem," said Tuan Droli. "They keep saying they will, but then they don't actually do it."

"We want justice - it's a short word but it has a lot of meaning."

On Thursday, Kate McGeown looks at the role of the security forces and efforts to maintain peace in the troubled south.






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