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Muslim Violence Destroying Economy in Southern Thailand
By Rungrawee C. Pinyorat Associated Press Writer Published: Sep 18, 2005
PATTANI, Thailand (AP) - The open-air market in this southern Thai city falls eerily quiet on Fridays. Most vendors stay home, terrorized by leaflets threatening to kill or cut off the ears of anyone who works on the Muslim holy day. After 20 months of insurgent violence, the no-work threat has driven another nail into what is becoming an economic coffin in Thailand's terrorized southern provinces.
"My business has been bad as customers are afraid to come out," said Thanchanok Putroy, 39, chopping up a catfish in the market where most stores were shut and buses aren't running.
Among the hundreds killed in the predominantly Muslim provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are police and soldiers, but police records show that 80 percent are civilians - rubber tappers, shopkeepers, civil servants, construction workers and ice cream vendors.
Bombs have exploded at a department store, a cinema complex, the international airport at Hat Yai and a department store owned by the French Carrefour chain. Now investors and tourists have been driven off and some workers are leaving.
"Trade has dropped 70 to 80 percent. Shopkeepers complain loudly. It is very quiet at night and people from outside dare not to come to the area," said Panya Ongsakul, chairman of the three provinces' chamber of commerce.
Always among the country's poorest regions, per capita monthly income in Narathiwat is 2,120 baht ($51), less than half the national average. Many Muslim villagers are angry at the government, but also want them to quell the violence so they can continue what have traditionally been peaceful lives in this rural region of 1.8 million people.
Fruit rots on trees and farmers in remote areas tap rubber by day rather than at night when trees yield their best sap.
Soaring demand, driven by the booming Chinese economy, has doubled rubber's price on the global market, but production in Pattani province has plummeted to a tenth of its volume in just a year, according to official statistics.
The 117-room Royal Princess, the largest hotel in Narathiwat, closed in January after occupancy dropped by half. Killings at building sites have chased away Buddhist workers and some contractors from outside the area have stopped bidding on new projects.
Prices of quarried rock have doubled, because the government severely limited the use of explosives that were reportedly being stolen for bomb attacks. The government eased the curbs as part of efforts to revive the economy, but Defense Minister Thammarak Isarangura Na Ayutthaya, while warily approving the measure, said he expected coffins would have to be stockpiled for bomb victims.
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