Thailand trains teachers on how to use guns to protect themselves from Islamic terrorists
Teachers have one of the deadliest jobs in southern Thailand, with 44 killed by the bombs and bullets of an Islamic insurgency since 2004.
So the teachers are learning how to shoot back.
The Chulabhorn naval base, on the Gulf of Thailand in Narathiwat province, opened its heavily guarded gates on a recent Sunday to a training course for 100 public school teachers, mostly Buddhist men and women who say bringing a gun to school has become essential.
"You'd never see a teacher anywhere else in Thailand carrying a gun," said Sanguan Jintarat, head of the Teachers' Association that oversees the 15,000 teachers in the villages and towns of the restive south. "But, we need them, or we'll die."
That teachers -- not to mention Buddhist monks, bank tellers and motorcycle mechanics -- have become targets in the insurgency illustrates how badly law and order has degenerated in southern Thailand since the violence flared in January 2004.
At first insurgents targeted mainly civil servants, soldiers and police officers. Attacks then spread to businesses that serve soldiers: restaurants, outdoor markets, garages. And now come attacks that seem to have no rationale at all, such as the murder last month of an elephant trainer who was shot seven times by gunmen who had lined up with children to buy tickets for a show.
More than 1,700 people have been killed across Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat -- the only Muslim-majority provinces in this otherwise peaceful, tourist-friendly Buddhist country.
Among them was a teacher gunned down at his blackboard in July as his 4th graders watched in shock, and a Buddhist art teacher clubbed by a village mob in May until her skull shattered.
Teachers may be targets, officials say, because they are symbols of the central government's authority, or be taken hostage to be traded for captured insurgents, or because the militants want to do away with secular schools, sending the message that only Islamic schools -- which have been spared violence -- are safe.
But almost everything about this insurgency is a mystery. It isn't clear whether the militants want a separate Islamic state in what was a Malay sultanate where insurgent violence has waxed and waned over the past century. No goals are stated, no responsibility is claimed for attacks, and no allegiance to foreign Islamic groups is declared. Authorities insist the uprising is purely domestic, but have been unable to arrest any leaders. They have flooded the area with 20,000 troops, but some local officials compare the predicament to that of the U.S. military in Iraq.
Lately militants have unleashed a wave of coordinated bombings every few weeks that kill sparingly but suggest a new level of sophistication and determination. Less than two weeks ago 22 banks were bombed simultaneously, dealing a potentially devastating blow to the local economy.
"Of course teachers should not be carrying guns, but they need to protect themselves," said Srisompob Jitipirmosri, a political science professor at Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani province who tracks the violence. . . .
Thanks to Don Kates for sending this to me.