More than 100 yellow-robed Buddhist monks arrived in predominantly Muslim southern Thailand Friday at the start of Buddhist Lent in the hope their presence will promote peace in the insurgency-wracked region.
During Buddhist Lent, villagers present offerings of food to monks who, according to tradition, must remain on temple grounds. Each temple is supposed to house at least one monk during the 3-month period.
But monks in the south have come under fire in the region’s Muslim insurgency, in which 3,400 people have been killed since a flare-up in January 2004. Last month, suspected insurgents shot to death a 60-year-old Buddhist monk and wounded another as they were collecting alms.
As a result, many temples in the area have been deserted or become heavily guarded fortresses. Monks are frequently escorted by military officials during their alms-seeking rituals.
“All of the 148 monks will spend time at over 100 temples in the area to boost morale among the Buddhist people,” said Army spokesman Col. Parinya Chaidilok.
The monks took an air force plane to Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat _ the three southernmost provinces, where bombings and drive-by shootings are a near-daily occurrence. Both Muslims and Buddhists have come under attack.
Authorities will provide security for the monks with 24-hour patrols of temple grounds and surrounding areas, said Parinya.
The insurgents make no public pronouncements but are thought to be fighting for an independent Muslim state in the three southern provinces of Buddhist-majority Thailand.