By THE NATION
A large number of Buddhist teachers in the troubled deep South have applied for transfers, with their morale at its lowest point following reports that they have become a new target group in the southern insurgency, Deputy Education Minister Sermsak Pongpanich said yesterday.
Statistics show that 80 per cent of the roughly 150 teachers killed in the violence in the area over the past eight years were Buddhists, he said.
In recent weeks, four teachers have been slain while on duty, as a result of which teachers’ associations protested the government’s failure to provide security for education staff by closing around 300 schools in Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani. The schools reopened on Monday.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will today travel to Pattani to give moral support to teachers and be briefed and witness the situation in the region, said PM’s Office permanent secretary Tongthong Jantarangsu.
She will then travel to other areas in the region, but these cannot be revealed, he said, adding that the premier wanted to listen to the proposals and demands of teachers’ representatives.
Yingluck’s visit takes place after the most recent attack on teachers, in which two were killed in Pattani’s Nong Chik district while having lunch in their school on Tuesday by insurgents dressed in camouflage gear.
Although armed with assault rifles, the insurgents were allowed to enter the school as the teachers mistook them for soldiers. Both teachers were shot from behind after failing to understand the insurgents’ order to kneel down, as it was spoken in Yawi.
Federations of teachers in the South yesterday agreed at an urgently arranged meeting that they would close all 1,200 schools in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat today and tomorrow, as they were unsure about their security following the violence of the past weeks.
Sanguan Intarak, president of the teachers’ federation in Narathiwat and adviser to the federations in the three southernmost provinces, said the closures would allow security officials to check and review security measures and safety systems in order to better protect schools and staff.
He said the decision should not be interpreted as an attempt by teachers to hold students hostage in exchange for their protection.
Buddhist teachers in three districts of Narathiwat yesterday refused to work following reports that insurgents are now targeting them.
A source said four Buddhist teachers at four schools in Chanae, Rangae and Joh I Rong districts had reported instead to the central authority in the province.
Meanwhile, Prasit Meksuwan, president of the Civil Society Council of Southernmost Thailand, called for the immediate removal of Buddhist teachers from risky to safer areas and for security personnel to be with education staff throughout the school day and, if possible, around the clock.
He said their immediate removal was required in light of the brutal killing of a school director and a teacher, both Buddhists, in Pattani.
Prasit said the deaths of four teachers in 20 days was unacceptable, and represented the profession’s worst loss in the deep South in eight years.
“The tragedy occurred |even though it was promised |that security would be stepped up and education personnel would |be under the closer watch of the security authorities,” he added.
Meanwhile, a man was arrested in Narathiwat’s Rangae district yesterday for his alleged involvement in Tuesday’s fatal attack on a teashop.
The suspect, Zavavi Puteh, 20, was detained during two separate early-morning raids in Tambon Bangorsato.
There are several outstanding arrest warrants for his arrest, including one for the theft of an ice-cream pickup in October.
The pickup is alleged to have been converted into a bomb-making vehicle.
The raids were conducted following the attack on a teashop in Rangae, the death toll from which on Tuesday had risen to six after Zitirohhima Sama, 70, succumbed to gunshot wounds in hospital. An 11-month-old girl was also among those killed.
The early-morning attack took place at the crowded teashop when men armed with assault rifles parked their vehicle and started firing at customers.
22,900 school administrators and teachers based in the region and violence-prone areas of Songkhla and Satun in 2011.
1,303 schools in South run by the Office of Basic Education Commission in 2011.
158 people in the education field have been killed since violence broke out in January
2004 –124 were teachers and 34 school personnel.
6,100+ teachers have applied to be moved away from the South since 2002, but applications of only 1,800 teachers have been approved.
SOURCES: BUREAU OF EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR SPECIAL ADMINISTRATION ZONE IN THE SOUTH AND THE ROYAL GAZETTE