October 19, 2005

Thailand rebuffs criticism from world Muslim body

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand attacked the world's largest
body of Islamic nations on Thursday over its criticism of the
Buddhist government's handling of separatist unrest in its
Muslim-majority south in which nearly 1,000 people have died.

Bangkok accused the Organization of the Islamic Conference
(OIC) of "disseminating misperception and misinformation" about
the violence-hit region in a statement which said the unrest
was caused by religious conflict.

OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said in the
statement earlier this week he had "deep concern and
preoccupation" about the "continued acts of violence in
southern Thailand against Muslims," and urged dialogue as the
only way to restore peace and security.

"The statement raises doubt as to where the OIC Secretariat
stands with regard to the efforts to bring peace and stability
to the three southern provinces of Thailand," the Thai Foreign
Ministry said.

In June, a delegation from the OIC, of which mainly
Buddhist Thailand is an "observer," said the unrest in the
region -- a former Muslim sultanate with a long history of
separatism -- was not a religious conflict.

"The OIC Secretariat has chosen to portray the situation as
a religious conflict once again, contrary to the facts as
already publicly acknowledged," the Thai ministry said.

In nearly two years of unrest, security forces have been
accused of a litany of abuses against members of the region's
80 percent Muslim majority, including arbitrary arrest,
disappearances and murder.

Bangkok has denied all such claims. In October last year,
78 Muslim men detained after a violent demonstration died of
suffocation in military custody.

Bangkok has imposed martial law and flooded the provinces
of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani with more than 30,000 soldiers
and police, although the campaign of daily shootings and
bombings, which started in January 2004, has shown no signs of