BANGKOK: Violence in Thailand's Muslim south has little to do with the drug trade and is the work of a growing but shadowy movement that wants a separate Islamic state, a senior government adviser said yesterday after this week's mass killings of militants.
Gen Kitti Rattanchaya, the top security adviser for the south, said hundreds of fighters have been trained in Thailand and overseas and are ready to sacrifice themselves, although he declined to name countries.
Security forces killed 108 fighters mostly young men wielding machetes who attacked police and army posts on Wednesday.
Three policemen and two soldiers were also killed in the mayhem the worst bloodshed seen in the country in years.
Government forces had been tipped off about the raids and waited with overwhelming firepower.
Human rights groups and Muslim preachers accused troops of using excessive force against the poorly armed militants and local residents alleged civilians also were killed.
Gen Kitti said the separatists have been secretly building their ranks for almost a decade by inciting people and training militias at religious schools.
They are now reaching the sixth of seven steps towards establishing an independent Muslim state, he said.
The sixth stage is the armed fight and the undeclared war, he said, adding that the final stage was revolution and the formation of an Islamic state.
In Pattani province yesterday, hundreds prayed at the Krue Se mosque where 32 people were killed two days earlier when security forces attacked holed-up militants.
There shouldn't have been deaths here, businessman Hadi Jindasak said. Those in charge could have waited and caught them alive instead.
Others attending weekly prayers at the 425-year-old holy place said they were angry that the Islamic community had allowed militancy to emerge among its young people.
An Islamic leader arrested after Wednesday's slaughter of militants denied government allegations they were drug addicts or criminals.
We are fighting for a separate Muslim state, said Mama Matheeyoh, who was paraded before reporters on Thursday wearing a skullcap, green long shirt and religious beads. We are not drug addicts and we did not get paid by anyone.
It was the first time any Islamic leader in the south openly spelled out objectives of the shadowy guerillas who stepped up anti-government attacks this year.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks and Mama did not say if the guerillas have a formal name.
Mama said he led a militant unit in one of more than a dozen simultaneous attacks against police and army posts on Wednesday in the Yala, Pattani and Songkhla provinces.
He was arrested along with 16 others on charges including treason and conspiring to murder state officials. AP
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