PATTANI – A commander of the Thai army has admitted that a military intelligence unit mistakenly identified a summer lesson at an Islamic school in the southern province of Pattani as a terrorist conference.
The admission came after soldiers raided the religious school, located in the office of Pattani's Central Islamic Committee of Thailand (CICOT), on 14 April. A Muslim cleric told reporters that the soldiers said they received reports that 30 "terrorists" were gathering at the madras to plan new attacks against the authorities in late April, but the school was in fact hosting a lesson for Muslim students on summer vacation.
The cleric, Waedueramae Mamingi, told reporters on 15 April that he was upset by the "rude" behavior of the soldiers, who reportedly pushed their way into the classrooms and took photos of the staff without permission, though no arrests were made during the raid.
"Such action amounts to intimidation," said Waedueramae, who is chairman of CICOT in Pattani. "I am saddened by the information and attitude of officers from some units that don't adhere to the policy [of reconciliation] issued by the Commander of the Fourth Region Army. I think I will need to discuss this allegation with the commander, in order to solve problems in the region. I believe the mistake was caused by prejudice, and a lack of filtering of information."
Waedueramae added that he was surprised by the raid because CICOT had already informed local police about their annual summer courses. "We want to encourage children to use their free time in a beneficial way, instead of behaving in any inappropriate way," the cleric said.
Speaking to Khaosod about the incident, the commander of the Fourth Region Army said the misunderstanding was due to an error in intelligence.
"Every side is working to find peace. Every side is working to find solutions to return peace and happiness to the southern border provinces," Lt.Gen. Prakarn Chollayuth told Khaosod. "I think there needs to be a revision of the operations of the security force's intelligence unit. We have to work in a transparent, straight forward way, and uphold human rights and laws."
Muslim insurgents seeking to secede Pattani and its two neighboring provinces, Yala and Narathiwat, have been locked in a bloody conflict with Thai authorities since early 2004. The secessionist violence has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the region, which has been governed under martial law for the past nine years; under martial law, soldiers can raid properties and detain individuals for up to seven days without court warrants.
Experts say the conflict is mostly fueled by ethnic and religious differences. While the vast majority of Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, the three southern provinces, known as the Deep South, are mostly populated by Malay Muslims who speak a distinct dialect and trace their ancestry back to the sultanate of Patani, which was annexed by Thailand in early 20th century.
Approximately 60,000 security officers have been deployed in the region to combat the insurgency. Although most of the violence has been instigated by insurgents, security officers have been accused of abuse and violating human rights in the region.
A raid in Pattani last month that left four men dead highlighted the ongoing mistrust among local residents towards security forces in the region. The military initially told the press that the four men were armed militants who opened fire on officers, but an investigative panel later concluded that the deceased were unarmed civilians without any link to the insurgency. Lt.Gen. Prakarn, the Fourth Region Army chief, publicly apologized for the raid on 7 April.
Seven soldiers have been summoned to report to police for murder charges in connection with the raid.