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Big Buddhist park project upsets southern Thai Muslims
By Max Constant, AA.com, Jan 18, 2016
Locals in majority Muslim region express displeasure that authorities would propose $5.5 million, 80-acre project without consulting residents
Pattani, Thailand -- An 80-acre Buddhist park project planned in Thailand’s Muslim majority south is upsetting local Muslims and could trigger a wave of protests, local media reported Monday.
Waedueramae Mamingji, chairman of Pattani province’s Islamic committee, told the Bangkok Post that Muslim residents were not opposed to the building of Buddhist temples in their neighborhoods, but considered “large-scale projects” such as the park to be going too far.
“Public sentiment and local sensitivity must not be ignored,” said Mamingji, who also serves as chairman of a network of Islamic committees in three predominantly Muslim provinces – Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat – bordering Malaysia.
The park project, which will be located in Pattani’s main district, is planned to include a large Buddha statue surrounded by Buddhist stupas and lawns.
It was recently approved at a meeting between provincial authorities and provincial leaders of the Buddhist clergy.
The $5.5 million needed for its construction will be mostly gathered through public donations.
“Will the government agencies concerned please reconsider the project for the sake of peace and stability for us here?” Mamingji asked Monday.
Quoting local sources, the Post reported that the project “has resulted in a surge of public displeasure against the authorities for proposing such a large religious construction be erected without local consultation”.
Referring to concerns that the issue “could touch off a row between Buddhists and Muslims”, it added that a mass protest could be in the cards in the neighboring province of Yala.
Muslims represent 80 percent of the population of the three southern provinces, and Buddhists around 15 percent – but more than 90 percent of Thailand’s population nationwide follows Buddhism and 5 percent Islam.
Relations between Buddhists and Muslims in the south had been strained for more than a century, but have become even tenser since a Muslim insurgency re-emerged in 2004.
Violence between insurgents and security forces have killed more than 6,500 people and injured around 11,000 since then.
The southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between Malay Muslims living in the south and the Thai central state, where Buddhism is considered the de-facto national religion.
Pattani’s former senator Worawit Bahru, another local Muslim leader, told the Post on Monday that if the park “alters Pattani’s identity”, it could end up “hurting” the commercial potential of the province, which Thai authorities have promoted as an important producer and exporter of halal foods.
National and provincial authorities have not yet responded to the controversy around the park, which is set to be completed this year, but provincial officials have begun preparing postcards to be distributed in raising donations.