Thai governer calls conflict a divine test

Yala governor Dejrath Simsiri with a picture of the bomb blast (left) and the Safety Zone Programme at his office in Yala, Thailand.

YALA, Thailand - The conflict in the Muslim-majority south which had cost more than 5,000 lives could be a test from God for the people, the governor of Yala said.

Dejrath Simsiri said God could have brought the problem as a punishment for their past mistakes.

"This is the consensus of Malay-Muslim leaders about the unrest in their southern provinces.

"Sadly, the people have to endure the problem until it is resolved," he told a group of Kelantan-based journalists here.

The provinces most affected were Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, where bombings and drive-by shootings occurred regularly since 2004.

The latest bomb attacks, which occurred here and in Hat Yai on March 31, killed 14 people, including two Malaysians, and injured hundreds more.

Dejrath said Malay-Muslim Thais should not view army deployment in the provinces as an interference in their lives.

He assured them that the troop presence was to provide security and help in socio-economic development.

"It has to be stressed that the problem is not about religious conflict," he said, adding that the death toll in the restive south included Muslims and Buddhists, who form the majority in the country.

He said it was absurd for separatists to call their terror campaign as "jihad" (holy war) when innocent Muslims were also killed in the attacks.

Dejrath said they had instilled in the minds of villagers that the killings were justified under jihad as a means to win public support.

"But the true teachings of Islam is in direct conflict with their struggle. Just look at the victims -- they are ordinary people who are either Muslims or Buddhists."

He said Thai authorities were looking at the model used by Malaysia to unite the various races.

He said the policy could be tailored to suit the situation in the Thai south in rebuilding the society.

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