Another One:

This time, Thailand got lucky.

A Muslim militant with a price on his head was killed in a gunfight with police while he was moving a cache of weapons and explosives in violence-plagued southern Thailand on Monday, police said.

The man, for whom the government had offered a 500,000-baht ($12,700) reward, sped away in a pickup truck from a poice checkpoint in Pattani province and was chased by police cars, they said.

The police caught up with Muktar Gureng and killed him in a firefight. A companion escaped into a rubber plantation.

Eight automatic rifles, more than 800 bullets and explosives were found in the pickup truck, police said.
And it's Christmas in Thailand, too -- Buddhists or no Buddhists.

The militants in question, calling themselves The Pattani United Liberation Organization, have responded by posting bounties of their own for assassinating Thai officials. Pattani is one of three Muslim-majority provinces in the South of Thailand. The insurgency has been ongoing in all three, but Pattani has been the focus of their efforts ever since the publication of a little book called Jihad for the Liberation of Pattani, urging Muslims to do just that through the use of Koranic verses mixed with political writings.

Although the "spiritual leader" of Muslims in Thailand denounced the book as unIslamic, the insurgency has been growing. It is probable that the leader is a leader in name only (thus my use of scare quotes): the office of Chularajamontri is not an Islamic office per se, but rather an appointment from Thailand's King, a Buddhist. The job of the Chularajamontri is to provide counsel to the King on questions relating to Islam.

But the fact of occupying such an office degrades you in the eyes of the enemy, whose ideology cannot accept Muslims taking an inferior position to an infidel -- not even a Christian or a Jew, to say nothing of a Buddhist, whose faith was not among those 'given books.' Thai Muslims were until recently not prone to Islamism, but rather were upset due to the eternal concerns of recognizable minorities: relative poverty, a certain amount of discrimination, and an alienation from their nation's political culture, whose symbols and celebrations are not their own. "Relative poverty" means one thing in Detroit or Los Angeles, but in Asia it means a kind of poverty that Americans cannot easily imagine.

But it is the alienation that has proven most deadly. Since Jihad for the Liberation of Pattani, Islamist thinking has spread quickly. It offers a critique and a vision that makes their struggle something very different from a civil rights movement; more than five hundred innocents have been killed since the Jihad began. Beheadings followed attacks against Buddhist monks and nuns, the killing of government officials, and especially teachers. It has entered the popular mindset of the young men, who make up the fighters in any insurgency. The speed and depth of the the conversion to radicalism has shocked everyone.
When the Su So village football team won the local league championship last Sunday, the players were the pride of the small community in Songkhla's Saba Yoi district.

But just three days later, the villagers' joy was shattered when 19 of the players, dressed in black camouflage shirts and red bandannas, attacked a police post. They were gunned down and killed.

'It seemed like they wanted to die,' a police officer said. 'I don't understand why they did not surrender.'

The community is now grappling with the reality that the attackers, who were aged 19 to 26 and armed with guns and knives, led secret lives.

The motivation for attacking a police unit equipped with automatic weapons was beyond the parents of the 19 men educated in Islamic pondok schools in neighbouring districts.

'My nephew was a good man, he did not even smoke,' said Mr Adul Lo-sae, his face showing stunned disbelief.

'I was shocked,' said the football team's coach Pittaya Maephrommi, whose brother was among those killed.

'I couldn't believe it when the police told me my boys attacked them with guns and machetes. They spent hours training with me. I don't understand when and where they went wrong.'
The Thai government seems also to have been caught totally unprepared, and still has not settled on whether it wants to pursue a political solution (the Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has undertaken several economic projects to resolve poverty in the south of Thailand -- but this is a thirty-year project at best), a cultural solution, or a military solution.

The effect of this confusion has been depressing to observe. So, this is good news -- but it is a bright spot on a dark sea. A solution in Southern Thailand is still a long way off. I suspect that it passes the power of the Thai government, acting alone. Thaksin has been creative, and possesses the native salesmanship that made him a filthy-rich businessman before he entered politics. The alienation is too deep for him to bridge, in spite of the support from the Thai "spiritual leadership." Someone trusted by the people of the south must do what Thailand's own leadership cannot: show the way back from the abyss.

Malaysia, concerned about the dangers posed by a growing insurgency just across the border, has begun to try. Whether their efforts will be fruitful, we will learn in the fullness of time.

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