Thai separatists have escalated attacks against teachers and schools in the country’s Muslim-majority southern provinces in the past six weeks, Human Rights Watch said today.
The rebels, who consider teachers a symbol of government authority and Thai Buddhist culture, have killed five teachers, wounded about a dozen and set fire to schools in 10 incidents since Oct. 31, the New York-based rights group said in a statement. A janitor and his 11-year-old son also died in the attacks, which shut down 1,300 government-run schools serving more than 200,000 students in Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani and Songkhla provinces, it said.
“Teachers are courageously risking their lives to ensure children’s access to education in southern Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But the government is still stuck in a cycle of ineffectual responses to the deadly threats teachers and students are facing every day.”
The decades-long push for an independent state in the provinces bordering Malaysia has killed more than 5,000 people since flaring up in 2004. The insurgency has stifled investment in the south, where 14 provinces account for 80 percent of Thailand’s rubber production.
Rebel attacks are growing more sophisticated even as the government spends billions of dollars, uses special security laws and deploys 60,000 personnel to stop them, the International Crisis Group said in a report last week. A resolution requires adjusting the military’s approach and decentralizing power to give local leaders more control, it said.
“The government urgently needs to devise and execute a political solution,” the Brussels-based policy research group said on Dec. 11. “This is not likely to be achieved without support from the military, which retains final say on how security policy is implemented. And it will require a level of political effort from Bangkok that has long been absent from its southern policies.”
Ethnic Malay Muslim separatists have been implicated in the deaths of 157 teachers and education personnel from government-run schools since January 2004, Human Rights Watch said.