Muslim leader shot dead in south Thailand

A Muslim leader in Thailand’s insurgency-plagued south who had survived a previous attack was shot dead Saturday in Pattani province, according to local media.
Dormeng Benjaewan, the 76-year-old imam of the Payonok Mosque in Saiburi district, was shot several times by a suspect riding pillion on a motorcycle in front of a food shop.
He was transferred to a local hospital where he died from wounds sustained to his head and body, the Bangkok Post reported.
Benjaewan had been respected among local residents and had worked with Thai authorities to resolve the decades-long unrest that has been destabilizing the three provinces bordering Malaysia where the population is 80 percent Malay Muslim.
Several imams have already killed in the conflict as a number of insurgent groups oppose the Thai central state, seeking secession or political autonomy.
In a prominent case in August 2013, Imam Yacob Raimanee of Pattani’s central mosque – the main Islamic house of worship in the south – was gunned down in Pattani city.
The parties behind the killing of Raimanee, who had been considered a key figure in helping resolve tensions between insurgents and authorities, have yet to be identified.
Last November, Abdullateh Todir, a 49-year-old imam in Yala province, was shot dead by what The Nation newspaper called “a rogue pro-government death squad”.
He had been acting as a go-between between the government and insurgents and was “well respected by both warring sides”.
Several Buddhist monks, considered as symbols of the Thai state, have also been killed since a rejuvenated armed movement re-emerged in 2004.
Saturday’s attack came as the military government is holding peace talks with Mara Pattani, an umbrella movement grouping six different insurgent factions.
Some analysts, however, have expressed doubts about the degree of control of Mara Patani on the insurgents active on the ground, where the main movement is the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN, National Revolutionary Front).
The last session of talks, facilitated by the Malaysian government, took place in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 25.
Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, an expert on the southern insurgency currently based at Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at Australian National University, recently told Anadolu Agency that the BRN’s pro-dialogue faction has joined Mara, “although the BRN leadership has not endorsed this initiative as they still have different views on this.”
The southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between Malay Muslims living in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and some districts of Songhkla and the Thai central state where Buddhism is considered the de facto national religion.
Armed insurgent groups were formed in the 1960s after the then-military dictatorship tried to interfere in Islamic schools, but went quiet from the end of the 1980s.
Since resurfacing in 2004, however, the conflict has killed 6,400 people and injured over 11,000, making it one of the deadliest low-intensity conflicts on the planet.

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