Thailand to Close all Schools in South

BANGKOK ~ Thailand will close all 944 public schools indefinitely in the country’s restive Muslim-majority south after a string of arsons and shootings that left two teachers dead, an official said this week.

“We have made a decision because we are worried about our own safety and our lives,” said Boonsom Thongsriplai, chairman of the Teachers Federation of Pattani, one of three insurgency-torn southern provinces bordering Malaysia.

All 944 public schools, ranging from elementary to high schools, in the three provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala were closed from Tuesday.

Out of 944, all 336 schools in Pattani and 100 in Yala were already closed, said Boonsom.

The school closure was due to a wave of arson attacks against school buildings, as well as shootings that killed two Buddhist school teachers last week.

In Pattani, suspected Islamic militants gunned down a 48-year-old school director inside his parked car then set fire to the bullet-riddled vehicle, the federation said.

The victim was the 60th teacher killed during three years of unrest in the south, where more than 1,600 people have been killed in the almost daily violence since January 2004.

Since taking office after the September coup, army-installed premier Surayud Chulanont has offered a number of olive branches, including an offer to hold talks with militants, in a bid to bring peace to the troubled region.

But the violence has spiraled since then, with bombings, arsons and shootings happening every day.

The Muslim area was an independent sultanate annexed by mainly Buddhist Thailand in 1902. Separatist violence has erupted periodically ever since.

The latest unrest has been variously blamed on ethnic Malay separatists, Islamic extremists and criminal gangs.

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