Violence doesn't spare even peace-loving Buddhist monks

by WASSAYOS NGAMKHAM, Bangkok Post, Jan 4, 2005

Pattani, Thailand  -- Violence in the deep South intensified over the past year, with even the clergy not being spared.

<< Phra Khru Pariyatkijsophon

Southern militants slaughtered three monks and a novice, resulting in a sharp decrease of visitors to Pattani's most famous temple, Wat Chang Hai in Khok Pho district where the highly revered monk, the late Luang Phor Thuad had resided.

The subdued atmosphere at Wat Chang Hai - which was once crowded with Buddhists and tourists from all regions of Thailand and even neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore - reflected similar problems at other Buddhist temples in Muslim-majority Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces.

Phra Khru Pariyatkijsophon, the abbot of Wat Chang Hai, said there has always been violence in this southern province over the past several decades, but last year's was more serious than ever because state officers were killed daily and even Buddhist monks fell victim to southern instigators.

Fear of violence was the main factor in the sharp decline in visitors to Wat Chang Hai for merit-making; many were worried about their safety after the stairsway of a chedi in the temple compound was bombed last year, the monk said.

"Before the daily killings, many tourists came to the temple to pay respects. But since ordinary people and monks became the target of attacks, the number of visitors dropped by nearly 80%.

"There used to be many visitors on Saturdays and Sundays, but there is none now, not even on His Majesty the King's birthday [Dec 5], when the temple's parking lot usually overflowed with vehicles bringing tourists from Singapore and Malaysia. Fewer than 300 people visited the temple on Dec 5 last year.

"I admit even local monks are scared. This is a pity, because monks like us are never involved with politics. We have a duty to teach people to be good persons and not have ill intentions against other religions.

"But some temples in Narathiwat now have no monks while some have to bring monks from the Northeast and the Central Region. A number even left the monkhood and much fewer men have entered the monkhood,'' Phra Khru Pariyatkijsophon said.

He said cash donations to the temple had declined 70-80%, while expenses were mounting, since the temple houses the main Dhamma and Pali language school in the deep South, which is attended by 50 student monks, while the weekend Dhamma classes are attended by some 400 laymen.

The situation in Khok Pho district has worsened because many more Buddhists have migrated elsewhere, and this could create a lack of Buddhist communities to support the temples here.

The people here were still in the dark as to who the southern instigators were.

"The monks can only tell the villagers that we must be careful and remain united, and not leave our homes after dark. Still, it's hard for us because even the state has failed to ensure the people's safety. The monks even have to walk in groups while on alms-receiving rounds,'' the abbot said.

He said the media sometimes presented exaggerated news about the situation, which only served to keep people away. He urged all parties concerned to cooperate in problem-solving and pay more attention to the safety of Buddhist monks.

The abbot admitted the monks and locals felt a little safer after soldiers were stationed at the temple to provide security, although the sight of men carrying guns in a temple seemed at odds with the Buddhist message of peace and goodwill.