23 May 2024

A recent visit to an Islamic education centre in Narathiwat by a local senior Buddhist monk, accompanied by a group of soldiers, has triggered uproar in the Muslim community in the deep south and was heavily criticised on the second day of the House debate against the Prayut government on Thursday morning.

Army officials, however, defended the visit, which they said was designed to help educate young Muslims on the history of the Thai national flag and patriotism.

Last Sunday, a group of unarmed soldiers from a task force and a public relations unit accompanied the abbot of a local Buddhist temple on a visit to an Islamic school for elementary students, known as “tadika”, located in the compound of a mosque in Duku village in Bacho District of Narathiwat province, one of the three southernmost provinces affected by years of violence.

According to Berna News, Phra Samujirapon Thammajaro, the abbot of Urai Rattanaram Temple, discussed issues of patriotism and the history of the Thai national flag with the young students, as well as the importance of cultural and religious pluralism. The abbot and the soldiers also handed out sports equipment to the school during the visit, it said.

Kuheng Yawohasan, a Narathiwat MP of the Prachachart Party, said the incident has offended the local Muslim community, which sees it as an interference in Islamic teaching. Speaking on the second day of the ongoing House debate, Kuheng said that it also demonstrated the current government’s lack of sincerity in solving the conflict in the south.

Describing the incident as an insult to the Muslim community, Kuheng said it “flies in the face of Thai authorities who claim that they respect cultural and religious differences.”

It also drew a strong reaction from the Duku Muslim Youth Council in Narathiwat, which issued a statement criticising the visit, and demanded that authorities concerned show responsibility for the incident.

“We call on the people to use all possible media platforms to demonstrate their objection to what is tantamount to a violation of human and community rights,” the statement said.

When contacted by Berna News, Lt Gen Santi Sakuntanark, commander of the Fourth Army Region strongly defended the visit.

“We are living in a pluralistic society. I don’t see any problem. I don’t think it should be an issue,” he was quoted as saying.