A Thai Muslim teacher watches her students during an exam at Phattana Islam Wittaya school in Yala province.
BANGKOK , October 11 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – Eight teachers at Thai Islamic schools were put on trial Tuesday, October 11, on charges of sowing the seeds of separatism for teaching students their history.
"They've taught people to believe their race is Melayu, their religion is Islam and their motherland is Pattani and everyone must fight for the liberation and independence of Pattani," Sombat Amornvivat of the Department of Special Investigation told the court, reported Reuters.
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation but Muslims make up about five percent of the population and mostly live in the five southern provinces bordering Malaysia .
Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are the only Muslim majority provinces in Thailand , where Muslims have long complained of
discrimination in jobs and education.
Most Muslims in southern Thailand are ethnic Malay who speak a dialect known as Yawi.
The southern region was once an independent Muslim sultanate until annexed officially a century ago.
Thai soldiers carry a dead body of a Thai teacher into a truck in Yala Province .
Sombat claimed the teachers were members of the BRN Coordinate, led by Sapaeing Bazo who has a 10 million baht ($240,000) bounty on his head, and accused them of sowing the seeds of separatism.
"They have persuaded their students to hate Thai officials, saying this land belonged to Muslims but was taken away by Thais," he told the court guarded by 100 uniformed and plainclothes police and a metal detector.
He accused the teachers, all in their 40s and 50s, of teaching the young to fight for the return of an independent Pattani.
The teachers were arrested earlier this year and charged with using terrorism to divide the country, charges they vehemently denied.
A Malaysian newspaper said on Tuesday, September 13, that more than 100 Muslim teachers in southern Thailand have been detained by police without charge since October of last year.
School teachers in the predominantly Muslim South have been the target of a tit-for-tat campaign of violence and revenge between the government and Muslim separatist groups.
Some 18 teachers had been killed in bomb attacks in the area in the past year and a half, with dozens of schools damaged or destroyed in arson attacks.
Nearly 900 people have died in the unrest in Thailand 's southernmost provinces since January 2004, according to unofficial statements.
The south was a rich Malay kingdom until it was overrun by the Buddhist kingdom of Siam in the late 16th century when it declared its full independence from its earlier status of semi-independence under the rule of the Thai kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya .
In 1909, it was annexed by the Kingdom of Siam as part of a treaty negotiated with the British Empire .
Both Yala and Narathiwat were originally part of Pattani, where once a Muslim civilization thrived and prospered, but were split off and became provinces of their own.
The Thais now rule the Muslim Malay provinces of Satun, Songkhla, Yala, Patani and Narathiwat, collectively referred to as "Greater Patani".
The heavy-handed and often insensitive attempts by central authorities to impose Thai-Buddhist culture on the Muslims have resulted in Pattanese resentment and a fear of losing their own identity to the Thai, perceived as foreigners or intruders.
Additionally, the underdeveloped nature of southern Thailand relative to the rest of the country has contributed greatly to Muslim feelings of deprivation and marginalization.
Muslim provinces account for only 1.5% of Thailand ’s gross domestic product. The south has virtually no industry, the infrastructure is abysmal and tourism is underdeveloped despite extensive natural beauty.
Muslim resentment erupted in the 1980s into a guerrilla war against the Thai government.