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(New York) – Separatist insurgents in Thailand’s southern border provinces should immediately end all attacks on teachers and schools.

In the most recent attack, on December 11, 2012, ethnic Malay Muslim insurgents entered a school in Pattani province at lunch hour and summarily executed two ethnic Thai Buddhist teachers. During the past six weeks, insurgents have killed three other teachers and wounded another three. Suspected insurgents set at least one school on fire.

“Insurgents in southern Thailand who execute teachers show utter depravity and disregard for humanity,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “These attacks harm not only teachers and schools, but the Muslim students, their families, and the broader Muslim community the insurgents claim to represent.”

In the December 11 attack, five men, some armed with M16 assault rifles and dressed in camouflage, entered Ban Ba Ngo School in Mayo district, Pattani. Three walked into the school canteen where teachers were having lunch and separated five Muslim teachers from two Buddhist teachers. When the school’s Buddhist director, Tiyarat Chuaykaew, tried to hide behind a Muslim teacher, one of the insurgents shot her in the head, execution-style. Somsak Kwanma, the other Buddhist teacher, was similarly shot and killed. The insurgents then escaped.

As a result of this and other attacks, on December 12 the Confederation of Teachers of Southern Border Provinces unilaterally shut down 1,300 government-run schools serving more than 200,000 students in Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat provinces and four districts of Songkhla province until state security agencies could assure better protection for educators. On December 13, as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the army commander-in-chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, made an official visit to the southern border provinces, the insurgents issued leaflets threatening to continue attacks on teachers.

Ethnic Malay Muslim separatist insurgents calling themselves the Patani Freedom Fighters (Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani) have been implicated in the deaths of 157 teachers and education personnel from government-run schools since January 2004, when the insurgency escalated. Insurgents have made teachers and state schools, which they consider a symbol of government authority and Thai Buddhist culture, a frequent target of attack. The insurgents have also claimed that the killings of teachers were in retaliation to the alleged assassinations of Muslim religious leaders by elements within the government’s security forces.

The insurgents should immediately cease all attacks against civilians, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, and profession, including against teachers and other education personnel, as well as all attacks against schools.

The Thai government should immediately develop a clear security strategy in consultation with teachers, principals, and other educators. Teachers should be provided with full discretion to decide whether or not to participate in measures such as security escorts or convoy travel. While some teachers favor such strategies, others have expressed concerns to Human Rights Watch that such measures compromise their own efforts to build trust with local communities, and fear that their proximity to soldiers places them in increased danger. Security forces should also assess the effectiveness of security procedures that increase protections for all civilians, such as sweeps of routes to and from schools prior to the beginning and end of the school day.

Teachers in the southern border provinces have demanded the installation of security cameras at schools and increased hazard pay, as well as compensation for families of teachers affected by the violence.
“Teachers are courageously risking their lives to ensure children’s access to education in southern Thailand,” Adams said. “But the government is still stuck in a cycle of ineffectual responses to the deadly threats teachers and students are facing every day.”

The latest killings follow a recent increase in violence against education personnel and schools in which separatist insurgents are believed responsible:

  • On October 31, Doromae Sha-u, a 49-year-old Ban Talosadao School janitor, and his 11-year-old son were shot dead on their way home from school in Yala’s Raman district. Doromae’s 9-year-old son was also injured in the attack.
  • On November 3, a bomb exploded outside Ban Yaba School, in Rue Soh district, Narathiwat. Eight people, including a 7-year-old boy, were wounded in the blast.
  • On November 4, Chula Woma, a 33-year-old teacher at Ban Kaen Thao School in Pattani’s Mayo district, was seriously wounded after insurgents shot him four times at a bus stop.
  • On November 9, two teachers – Sukij Ritdej, 45, and Wanphen Chankaew, 59 – were wounded by insurgents while driving to Taladnad Ban Tonmakham School in Yarang district, Pattani.
  • On November 22, two insurgents shot dead Nanthana Kaewchan, the 51-year-old headmistress of Ban Tha Kam Cham School, as she drove home in a car in Nong Chik district, Pattani. Three of the school’s seven remaining teachers are reported to have requested transfers to schools in safer areas following the attack. The killing also prompted all 332 government schools in the district to suspend classes the following week.
  • On November 29, a two-story building housing the school director’s office, computer rooms, and 11 classrooms at Bang Maruat School, Panare district, Pattani, was burned down by insurgents.
  • On December 3, a group of 15 to 20 insurgents set fire to Ban Thasu School in Panare district, Pattani, damaging one room.
  • On December 3, Chatsuda Nilsuwan, a 33-year-old teacher at Ban Ta-Ngo School in Cho Airong district, Narathiwat, was shot dead by insurgents while on her way home.
  • On December 4, Teerapol Choosongsang, a 52-year-old teacher at Ban Boko School in Sungai Padi district, Narathiwat, was shot and badly wounded by insurgents. After this attack, more than 100 schools in Narathiwat’s “high risk” areas were shut down due to security concerns.

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