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Over 100 dead in muslim battle in thailand { April 28 2004 }

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Over 100 dead in Muslim battle in Thailand
Wed 28 April, 2004 11:57

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

PATTANI, Thailand (Reuters) - Troops and police have killed more than 100 gun and machete-wielding Muslim youths, including more than 30 in a three hour mosque shoot out, on a day of carnage in Thailand's restive south.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Wednesday said 107 "bandits" and five soldiers had died in the fighting, which started when gangs of mainly young men launched dawn attacks on army and police posts across the predominantly Muslim region.

Army chief General Chaiyasidh Shinawatra said intelligence services had been tipped-off about the attacks, meaning security forces were ready and waiting for trouble.

"Our intelligence operations have been beefed up a lot with the help of local people, some of whom have supplied us with tips and information," he told a news conference.

Many of those involved in the assaults, which mark a major escalation in four months of violence in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, were wearing black or dark green uniforms with bright red headbands.

Thaksin vowed to smash what he said were rings of troublemakers motivated purely by crime, rather than religion or ideology, in a region which was home to a low-key Muslim separatist rebellion in the 1970s and 1980s.

But the widespread and coordinated nature of the attacks on around 15 security installations across the provinces bordering Malaysia suggested forces other than pure gangsterism or drugs were afoot, analysts said.

"We will uproot them, depriving them of a chance to allude to issues of separatism and religion. In the end, they were all bandits," Thaksin told reporters.


After a three hour gun battle at a prominent mosque in the provincial town of Pattani, soldiers were dragging bodies from the bullet-riddled building for fear they might be rigged to booby traps, witnesses said.

"We had no choice but to take decisive action and storm the place to wrap up our operations as quickly as possible," said army head Chayasidh.

Elsewhere in the forested, hilly region, television showed a sandbagged police post ablaze after one of the attacks. Burning motorcycles were scattered in and around the compound and the corpses of two rebels lay in the entrance hallway.

One wore a Muslim prayer cap while both had red scarves tied around their heads and waists.

One also wore a green T-shirt emblazoned with Arabic writing and the letters "JI" -- a possible reference to Jemaah Islamiah, the group linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and blamed for terror attacks across Southeast Asia.


Television also showed wounded border soldiers, their green battle fatigues soaked in blood, being hauled out of trucks onto hospital stretchers. At least one soldier was seen lying dead in the rubble of a destroyed building.

Thailand's three southernmost provinces have been hit by a wave of shootings, bombings and arson attacks that had claimed at least 60 lives since a January 4 raid on an army barracks that left four soldiers dead.

In Bangkok, where the stockmarket fell 1.2 percent on fears of escalating violence, Thaksin called an emergency meeting of top security officials. The Thai baht fell to a four-month low.

Despite a huge military clampdown in the south, the violence has shown few signs of abating, leading analysts to fear the region's disaffected Muslim youth might become a fertile breeding ground for the likes of Jemaah Islamiah or al Qaeda.

In what looks increasingly like a policy vacuum, Bangkok has so far blamed the trouble on gangsters exploiting disgruntled elements of the local Malay-speaking population, who feel few emotional ties to the predominantly Buddhist country.

"Those who died must have believed they were dying for their religion," said Ahmad Somboon Bualang of Pattani's University of Prince Songkhla. "They must have had an ideology beyond separatism otherwise why would they attack with their bare hands and swords?"

A statement from army chief Chaiyasidh Shinawatra said many of the attackers were had been paid and pumped up with drugs.

"Some of them were found to be carrying religious beads and written words of prayer used for instigating the misguided to carry out various illegal activities," it said.

"Judging from their dead bodies, they had taken narcotics. Their smell suggested the use of drug-laced cough-drops," deputy prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh told reporters.

Other analysts said the authorities must come clean as quickly as possible to stave off accusations of staging a massacre.

"This is very shocking," said Bukhoree Yeema, a political scientist in the southern province of Songkhla. "If the government does not produce a clear-cut explanation, there will be massive repercussions from the Muslim community."

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