Human Rights Office in Southern Thailand Raided


source from Irrawaddy news, 09 Feb 2009,

BANGKOK — Soldiers and police staged a dawn raid Sunday on an office of a human rights group in southern Thailand, inspecting computer files and documents, the organization announced.

The raid came just two days after the military warned that militants might infiltrate non-governmental organizations to stir up trouble in the south, the scene of a bloody Muslim insurgency since early 2004.

The insurgents often target civilians in their brutal attacks, while the army has been accused of using heavy-handed tactics on local residents in an effort to catch them.

The Working Group on Justice for Peace said its office in Pattani province had been raided at 5 a.m. by about 20 soldiers and policemen who inspected documents and computer files but did not take anything away.

Lt-Col Prawet Suthiprapa, who led the raid, said the authorities had not specifically targeted the office but had been searching the entire area after getting a report that insurgents were hiding there.

“The search was conducted according to the law and we left after a few hours when we did not find anything,” he said. That areas affected by the insurgency are under martial law, so the authorities do not need court warrants to search private property.

The rights group on Saturday had responded to the military’s warning to government agencies of alleged infiltration of NGOs by challenging the army to produce evidence and charge wrongdoers.

In a statement, it called on the army “to stop threatening the work of activists who are helping people in the region whose rights are violated or abused.”

The Islamic separatist insurgency in the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat has led to the deaths of more than 3,300 people since early 2004.

The attacks—which include drive-by shootings and bombings—are believed intended to frighten Buddhist residents into leaving the only predominantly Muslim areas of Thailand, which is 90 percent Buddhist. Many southern Muslims feel like they are treated like second-class citizens.

 

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