* Suddenly the ‘shadowy insurgents’ turn into ‘a century-old struggle for independence in the south.’
BANGKOK, Thailand: An exiled Muslim rebel leader warned Thailand’s new government that a violent Islamic insurgency in the south could worsen if the region is denied sovereignty, renewing debate over a possible referendum on autonomy.
The comments from Lukman B. Lima, who heads the Pattani United Liberation Organization from exile in Sweden, were the first from the Muslim rebel movement since Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his interior minister made conflicting remarks on the issue earlier this month.
* Why is this PoS allowed to lead an insurgency while hiding out in Sweden?
“The worst-case scenario can still be avoided, but only if Mr. Samak and the military forces allow the people of Pattani to determine their own future,” Lukman said in an e-mailed statement received by The Associated Press on Friday.
“If, in a referendum sanctioned by Bangkok, Pattani chooses independence, there will be one less border in the world marked by endemic conflict,” he said.
Thailand annexed the independent sultanate of Pattani in the early 20th century, and the mostly Muslim region is now divided into three provinces â€” Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala. Residents have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens in the predominantly Buddhist country. Past governments have failed to quell the insurgency despite the presence of 40,000 troops and police officers in the region.
Lukman’s organization, known by the acronym PULO, is one of several groups involved in a century-old struggle for independence in the south. More than 2,900 people have died since violence flared in 2004. Drive-by shootings and small-scale bombings occur almost daily.
It was not clear to what extent Lukman’s comments reflected the views of the other shadowy groups involved in the insurgency. PULO is the only rebel organization to comment on the fighting, and its leaders have been in self-imposed exile in Sweden for several years.
Nimukta Waba, a Muslim lawmaker from Pattani province, said Friday he did not believe Lukman knew what people in the region wanted.
“The local people are only demanding justice, fair treatment and equal rights,” said Nimukta from the Puea Pandin Party â€” a member of the government’s ruling coalition. “I think at least 90 percent of people here do not want autonomy. It would be useless to hold a referendum.”
* Remember: ‘Justice’ means sharia for the Islamofascists…
Col. Akara Thiprote, the regional army spokesman, noted 75 percent of voters in the south cast ballots at the Dec. 23 general election.
“This means the majority of people agree with the democratic system of rule in Thailand and do not want to separate from the country,” Akara said by telephone from the army’s southern command headquarters in Yala.
* Most likely true. But it is groups like Lukman Lima’s who fight the global jihad…
Interior Minister Chalerm Yoobambrung said this month the new government would consider granting partial autonomy to the region. Samak responded it would be dangerous to grant self-rule to the south â€” apparently overruling Chalerm, who quickly retracted his comments, saying he did not want the issue to “create conflict and start an argument.”