Thailand may allow more local autonomy and consider allowing Shariah law to defuse a separatist insurgency in Muslim provinces that border Malaysia, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said.
Abhisit is seeking to undermine suspected separatists in four southernmost provinces who have attacked teachers, Muslim worshippers and policemen this month, leaving at least 31 dead and more than 50 injured. The prime minister, who took office in
December, has insisted any decentralization of power wouldn't be tantamount to autonomy, which the government opposes.
Most of the local Malay Muslims just want a more autonomous, more decentralized administration so that they have political space for their own cultural and religious identity, said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political science lecturer at the Prince
of Songkhla University in Pattani province: So far the local identity has been suppressed by the central government.
Abhisit has advocated a reconciliatory approach with more development aid for the region, where separatists have fought for an independent state since Thailand formally annexed the autonomous Malay-Muslim sultanate in 1902. A planned development plan
that would create jobs in the region will go a long way to contribute to stability, he said.
Abhisit said negotiations with separatists were impractical because the movement was not integrated. Insurgents in the area, which is about twice the size of the Palestinian territories, were supported by funds from drug cartels, human trafficking
rings and other criminal syndicates, he said.
Recruiters appeal to a sense of Malay nationalism and pride in the old Patani sultanate, says Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, Crisis Group's Thailand analyst: They tell students in these schools that it is the duty of every Muslim to take back
their land from the Buddhist infidels.