Monday, December 06, 2004
Violence erupts in southern Thailand after airdrop of paper peace birds
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - A massive airdrop of paper birds to promote peace failed to halt violence in Thailand's restive south, with a spate of new attacks targeting soldiers and local officials erupting on Monday.The bombings, shootings and arson attacks came hours after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the airdrop Sunday of nearly 100 million Japanese-style origami cranes over the predominantly Muslim region had achieved an "enormous, positive psychological effect'' toward peace. On Monday morning a seven-kilogram (15.4 pound) bomb was detonated remotely by a mobile phone at a rest-stop for patrolling soldiers. Four troops were wounded, one seriously, in Narathiwat province's Ra-ngae district. Another bomb exploded nearby hours later seriously injuring an assistant district chief as he parked his car. The official, Pricha Nuannuay, 38, went to the area to instruct security forces to carry out thorough searches for explosive devices, police said. A third bomb found later in a garbage bin in the area was defused by police. More than 540 people have died this year in the southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala _ the only Muslim-majority regions in Buddhist-dominated Thailand _ in violence blamed on Islamic separatists. Bangkok's heavy-handed response has not helped the situation. The government came under strong criticism after 85 Muslim demonstrators died on Oct. 25, including 78 who suffocated or were crushed when soldiers bound and stacked them on top of each other in military trucks. Encouraged by the government, Thais across the country _ Cabinet ministers, office workers, schoolchildren and even convicts _ folded more than 130 million birds to promote peace in the south. Approximately 30 million will be delivered by land. While meant as a morale-boosting measure for victims of violence, Sunday's origami airdrop resembled a festive treasure hunt with prizes offered for some specially marked birds. People who collected large quantities could trade them in for items ranging from cartons of milk to bicycles. Especially coveted was one bird folded and signed by Thaksin, which offered a scholarship if found by a child, or a job for an adult. Thaksin said Sunday the paper bird airdrop showed residents of the three southern provinces that they are part of Thai society, and that their countrymen care for them. Hours after Thaksin spoke, the owner of a tea shop in Pattani was slain by gunmen, grenades were thrown at the homes of two policemen in the same province, and arsonists set fire to a state school in Yala and a teacher's house in Narathiwat.