A few hours’ drive from the white-sand beaches of Phuket, a deadly insurgency is terrorizing Thailand’s south. The separatist movement, made up of mostly ethnic-Malay Muslims, roils the region with daily threats of sectarian violence and has prompted many Buddhist villagers, and even some monks, to take up arms in self-defense.
Since 2004, drive-by shootings, IED bombings and point-blank assassinations have claimed some 5,000 lives in Thailand's three restive southernmost provinces that border Malaysia, making the insurgency one of the world’s deadliest.
Cambodian and Thai troops squared-off for the fourth consecutive day on Monday, the latest in a series of deadly clashes over small but symbolically valued sections of territory along the Southeast Asian countries' shared border.
Mae Sot has absorbed a colorful mosaic of migrants and anti-government exiles of various stripes from its military-ruled neighbor to the west. Walk through one of the town's main markets and you'll catch vignettes of life across the border.
Thailand's foreign ministry says Burmese asylum seekers will not be returned until “the situation in their country becomes conducive.” But Thai authorities have shown an inclination in recent years to carry out deportations even in the face of strong opposition from rights groups and foreign powers.
The government of Prime Minister Abhisit managed to stamp out the protests. But the dramatic, days-long conclusion to the standoff brought no resolution to the underlying divisions between the Red Shirts and their yellow-shirted opponents.