PATTANI, THAILAND – Communities in southern Thailand have been caught in the crossfire of a bitter war between Thai government forces and Muslim separatist insurgents for more than a decade.

The reign of violence, which has quietly stacked up thousands of bodies since it escalated in 2001, has hampered daily life for ordinary people living on both sides of the Buddhist-Muslim religious divide which characterises the conflict.

The Catholic Church has found a role here as mediator.

“We aim to bridge the gap between the government and the community,” says Fr Suwat, director of the Diocese Social Action Centre (DISAC) of Surat Thani.
DISAC is helping to repair relationships between alienated Thai Muslims and the national government, and to set up income generating programmes across Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces.

It runs several capacity building initiatives in the region with the help of European Union (EU) funding and support from the Catholic Church.

Communities in the area are now benefiting from various projects which are simultaneously generating additional income for residents and addressing social issues arising from the conflict.

“The key challenge is changing the mentality of people within the community who feel discriminated against and alienated by the system. We are teaching them the system because they do not know how to approach the government for help,” Father Suwat added.

His organisation is working closely with community leaders, offering training on how to approach government bodies for project funding.

Fr Suwat said there is still much work to be done. “We need more time for this ongoing work. DISAC has been greeted well by the government and the local communities who are beginning to trust us. This is a good starting point.” – UCANEWS.COM