Buddhist chief beheaded in revenge for Muslim deaths

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The Independent Online

A Buddhist village chief was beheaded in Thailand's Narathiwat province yesterday in an apparent revenge killing, a week after 78 Muslim protesters were crushed to death en route to a military detention centre.

A Buddhist village chief was beheaded in Thailand's Narathiwat province yesterday in an apparent revenge killing, a week after 78 Muslim protesters were crushed to death en route to a military detention centre.

The chief's death was the second beheading in a year of sectarian violence in three predominantly Muslim provinces bordering Malaysia. Almost 450 people have died in sporadic attacks, most of them policemen or civil servants.

Police said that Jaran Torae, 58, went missing on Monday night and was decapitated with a machete at about 8am, after being shot in the chest. His head was found with a note, in a plastic fertiliser bag on the roadside. His torso was retrieved later from a rubber plantation nearly a mile away.

The message reportedly said: "This is revenge for the innocent Muslim youths who were massacred at the Tak Bai protest. This was less than what has been done to the innocent." On 25 October, a protest outside a police station turned into a six-hour stand-off between security forces and Muslim protesters demanding the release of six villagers suspected of supplying weapons to militants. Seven protesters were shot dead and 78 of 1,300 men arrested for rioting were crushed to death or suffocated after being loaded into military trucks.

Thaksin Shinawatra, the Prime Minister, is under pressure to stop suppressing dissidents in the south. His comments that protesters who died were weak because of Ramadan fasting provoked particular anger and Islamic leaders feared retribution would follow. The Prime Minister initially appeared to shrug off the condemnation of opposition politicians and international human rights groups but later admitted that his security forces had made mistakes. He ordered an investigation after promising to heed royal advice to use a more "gentle approach".

Twenty people were wounded in separate bomb blasts on Friday last week, and a task force of Thai senators has been dispatched to the south to question detainees from the riot, at an army base in Pattani. Most of the protesters have been released, and police will not press charges for sedition, which carries a 20-year sentence. Instead, 58 Muslims, mostly young men, will be charged with congregating unlawfully and threatening officials. They face up to four years in jail.

On 28 April, 107 suspected Muslim militants were killed when they attacked police positions in a failed effort to seize weapons. This excessive use of force was also followed by the decapitation of an assistant village chief in Narathiwat.

Narathiwat, and the neighbouring provinces of Pattani and Yala, used to be strongholds of the separatist Pattani United Liberation Organisation. At its peak, the Pulo had more than 20,000 militants, but the movement disbanded after a government amnesty in the 1980s.

The government blames the recent attacks on local separatists inspired by foreign Muslim extremists or educated at radical Islamic schools abroad.

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