BANGKOK, May 29 (AFP) – Assailants decapitated an elderly Buddhist in Thailand’s Muslim south Saturday and vowed more such killings if Muslims continued to be arrested for the months-long unrest in the region, police said.
It was the first decapitation in the violence, which has claimed some 190 lives since January, police said.
Sieng Patkaoe, 63, was attacked by men with machetes early Saturday as he tapped rubber trees on his plantation in the southern province of Narathiwat, district police said.
Sieng’s severed head was left along a village road. His body, found some 60 metres (yards) away, had a note pinned to it threatening more killings, police said.
“If innocent Malayu (the predominant ethnic group in the Muslim south) continue to be arrested, we will murder more Buddhists,” police quoted the note as saying. It was written in Thai and printed by computer, they said.
The victim had no conflict with neighbours, police said.
The killing marks a new level of brutality in the violence, mainly blamed on Muslim separatists, that has plagued southern Thailand this year.
“This is the first decapitation so far in this unrest,” an officer in charge of the case told AFP.
The violence has raged virtually unchecked since January, when an attack on an arms depot left four soldiers dead and heralded a wave of attacks.
It escalated dramatically on April 28 when 108 suspected Muslim rebels were killed as they mounted disastrous raids on police stations and checkpoints.
The attacks culminated in the security force’s storming of a historic mosque and killing of all 32 suspected militants hiding inside. The incident prompted international criticism.
Other victims of the unrest have been security forces and government officials, and Buddhist monks, teachers and villagers.
Thai authorities have been accused of heavy-handed tactics to quell violence, including unwarranted detentions and excessive interrogations.
This week the attorney general’s office released 31 of 33 Muslims detained on treason charges linked to the deadly January raid, citing a lack of evidence.
There are fears the conflict could broaden into major religious strife.
In the Indonesian capital Jakarta members of the hardline Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) gathered outside Thailand’s embassy Thursday to protest the “slaughter” of Muslims in the majority Buddhist kingdom and threatened to wage holy war in defence of fellow Muslims.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Saturday he had asked the military to meet with the umbrella Muslim separatist group, Bersatu, to try to find a solution to the violence.
The outlawed body is led by Malaysian-based Wan Abdul Kadir Che Man and includes militant separatist groups operating in Thailand.
“I have asked the military to hold talks with the various groups in the(separatist) movement in the south as we want to get information from people who claim they know the source of the problems, but they have to truly work for the people and not just themselves,” Thaksin said in his weekly radio address.
The Nation newspaper last Monday quoted Wan Abdul Kadir as saying he no longer wanted a separate homeland for Thai Muslims, but that reconciliation would only happen if the community had more political autonomy.
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