Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The Thai government and the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) have announced short and long-term security measures to protect monks in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala, where most of Thailand’s Muslims are concentrated.
The decision follows the assassination of two monks and the wounding of two others in Sungai Padi, a district in Narathiwat. It is not yet clear who the perpetrators are, but most people blame Islamic radicals.
The NOB and Thai security forces in the three provinces and in four districts in Songkhla will work more closely to prevent monks and temples from being targeted by Muslim rebels.
Three days ago, around ten, black-clad armed men attacked Wat Rattananuparb Temple, killing Abbot Phra Khru Prachote Rattananurak and his assistant, Phra Smuh Atthaporn Khun-amphai.
Two other monks, Phra Prawate Sookkaew and Phra Tanachote Chumlert, were wounded but are now out of danger.
The NOB will dedicate additional funds to southern temples to promote religious activities, a decision NOB director Pongporn Phramsane forwarded today for advice to the Sangha Supreme Council, the governing body of the Buddhist Order (Sangha) of Thailand, which plays a similar role as that of the College of Cardinals in the Catholic Church.
In the meantime, all local monks can decide whether or not to collect alms from the faithful. Most temples have maintained the practice despite the attack, but some have invited local Buddhists to bring offerings directly to temples.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Chularatchamontree, leader of Thailand’s Muslim community, visited the two wounded monks yesterday.
Surin Palare, secretary of the Islamic Council of Thailand, noted that the leader is deeply concerned about the incident, fearing it might worsen tensions between Buddhists and Muslims. In his view, the attackers were trying to drag the religion into the conflict.
A Buddhist (Theravada) majority country (almost 95 percent), Thailand annexed the southern region a century ago.
In 2004, armed ethnic Malay Muslim groups have launched an insurrection that has left 7,000 people dead so far. Most victims are Muslim and Buddhist civilians, including 23 Buddhist monks.