Buddhists in northeastern Thailand have filed a petition to stop a Muslim community’s efforts to register a recently constructed mosque, citing fears of violence similar to that in the country’s insurgency-stricken Deep South.
Pramual Pimsen, president of the Buddhist Assembly for National Security, told BenarNews that he led about 60 Buddhists in Khon Kaen province to submit a petition with the local governor on Monday seeking to dismiss the registration of the mosque in Ban Lerng Peau village.
“Local Buddhists and those in the nearby village agreed that terrorism has spread widely and imprinted a bad perception in people’s mind. The people are not feeling welcome toward the mosque because it may induce violence such as what happened in Deep South…,” the petition said, according to Pramual.
“Buddhist establishments in Khon Kaen therefore have asked the governor to nip it in the bud, dismissing the mosque registration request,” he said.
The governor of Khon Kaen could not be reached for comment, while a national Ministry of Interior official said he needed to study the complaint before he could comment. Khon Kaen province has a population of 1.8 million, of whom, 3,000 are Muslim.
Of Thailand’s 67 million people, about 4 million are Muslim. Almost 2 million Muslims are concentrated in the Deep South region next to the Malaysian border.
Since a long-running separatist insurgency by Malay-speaking, Muslim rebels re-ignited in 2004, nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence associated with the rebellion in the region, where Buddhists form the minority. According to Deep South Watch, a think-tank based in the region, Buddhists comprise about half of this death toll.
‘They don’t feel OK with Muslims’
In Khon Kaen, a retired member of a local committee responsible for mosque affairs said construction on the place of worship began in August 2014, and the city granted permission a few months later. The project was finished in July 2016 and passed initial inspection on Dec. 22, 2016.
“That was seven months ago and it was put on hold. All of sudden there are people coming up against the mosque even though we did follow the procedure. The province held it up,” Uzman Radinghin told BenarNews, adding he did not know when the registration would be approved.
Meanwhile, Rukchart Suwan, president of the Buddhist Network for Peace in Yala – a province in the Deep South – said people in three other provinces, Nan, Chiang Mai and Mukdaharn, have harbored feelings toward Muslims in the southern border region.
“In my experience from chatting with locals of Nan province, they don’t feel OK with Muslims because their relatives died on tours of duty in the Deep South,” he told BenarNews.
“We are going to Khon Kaen, perhaps after Ramadan to create a mutual understanding,” he said.
In May 2016, protest banners appeared at a mosque construction site in Mukdaharn, another province in the northeast.
“Cannot build Buddha Monthon Park in Pattani because they are Muslims. Here we are all Buddhists. Who is the mosque for?” one banner read.
Saki Pitakkhumpol, a professor at the Institute of Peace Studies at Prince of Songkla University, a campus in the Deep South, said that a lack of understanding about the regional conflict had fueled Islamophobia throughout the country. The lack of understanding is exacerbated by the media’s penchant for focusing on violence, he added.
“We cannot deny that there are separatists. There are many, in fact,” Saki, the son of Sheikhul Islam or the Chief Muslim in Thailand, told BenarNews in 2016.
“But there are contraband smuggling rings and they need to create an environment to facilitate their business. As well, there are drug-trafficking syndicates, and personal conflicts among local gang-landers,” he said, adding, “When they get angry at each other, they use bomb attacks. When the officials cannot identify the real cause, they say the incidents are separatist-related.”