Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Thailand risks southern revolt, says Malaysia party

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Thailand risks a Muslim uprising in the south after the latest deaths of almost 80 Muslims in military custody, the main Islamic political party in neighbouring Malaysia said on Wednesday.

"This is tragic and a real massacre of a group of people who are just peacefully demonstrating and this will have a great effect on the feelings of southern Thai people," said Mohamad Hatta, chairman of the external affairs committee of the Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS).

"This latest issue will create more instability and dissatisfaction and we are very worried that people will rise against the government."

Thailand's justice ministry said 78 people suffocated as they were being taken in trucks to an army barracks after a violent protest by Muslims near the border with Malaysia on Monday. The small Muslim minority are mainly Malay-speaking and feel little affinity with Thailand's majority Buddhists.

It was the bloodiest day in the Buddhist kingdom since April 28, when troops and police shot dead 106 machete-wielding militants in the south.

Security outposts in the restive, Muslim-majority region have been common targets in 10 months of unrest, which looks increasingly like a revived Muslim separatist movement.

Hatta said all sides should exercise restraint and start negotiating over Muslim demands for a form of autonomy in southern Thailand.

"The army should stop all military action in southern Thailand and political leaders should go back to the negotiating table," he said.

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