|Phra Khru Pariyatkijsophon
Bangkok - Violence in the deep
South Thailand intensified over the past year, with even the clergy
not being spared.
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
"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
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.