All the 300-plus schools in Pattani province which closed on Nov 26 after the killing two days before of a school director in Nong Chik district by suspected extremists are due to reopen today after Education Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana promised to look into the teachers' demands.
Among the demands are increased hazard pay and compensation in case of injury or death caused by violent incidents perpetrated by suspected insurgents.
As for their safety, it appears most teachers are willing to take the risk of possible insurgency attacks, running the gauntlet back and forth between school and home under military escort rather than boarding in their respective school compounds as suggested by Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha following the fatal shooting of Nanthana Kaewchan, 51, director of Tha Kum Sum school in Nong Chik district.
As a matter of fact, the idea of having teachers board at schools to avoid the risk of insurgency attacks when travelling between school and home is nothing new. It is raised every time a teacher is killed or badly injured and, each time it is raised, it is quickly dismissed by most teachers.
The idea is viewed as impractical, especially for teachers who have families, as boarding at schools means they will be separated from their families even if it is temporary, for instance, during weekdays.
Then there are questions about who will take care of their children and cook for them, as most female teachers also double as housewives.
Second, the problem of accommodation. Since most schools in the region are not meant to double up as lodging for teachers _ even temporarily _ they lack accommodation facilities such as separate sleeping rooms and kitchens.
Also, boarding at a school does not mean 100% safety as the schools can be targetted for attack.
Besides, putting several teachers together in one place may tempt the insurgents to attack the schools, according to critics of the idea.
It appears that most teachers in the deep South are more concerned with the hazard pay and compensation in case of injury or death than with the risk of possible attacks by the insurgents, which seems to be an accepted fact of life for most people who choose to live in this restive region.
Not a single day goes by without someone, be it a civilian, a security official or a suspected insurgent, getting killed or injured. This is the harsh reality of the region.
But teachers are more vulnerable and a favourite target than other professionals because attacks on them attract more media publicity and public outcries.
So when insurgent groups feel the need for publicity for their lost cause of struggle, they simply target a teacher.
Their latest victim, Nanthana, was the 154th teacher and education official killed in the trouble-plagued region over the past nine years. And the sad likelihood is she will not be the last.
Ensuring 100% safety for the teachers is easier said than done as security cannot be provided around-the-clock.
In Nanthana's case, she did not travel in an escorted convoy but drove home in her own car unescorted and was shot dead about 200 metres from the school.
In many cases, teachers are attacked during off-duty hours and weekends. As far as statistics alone are concerned, the number of violent incidents has dropped this year although some have become more violent in nature such as the use of more powerful car bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
A case in point was the bombing of a train in Rueso district of Narathiwat on Nov 18 in which three people were killed and over a dozen injured.
Police said two IEDs, each weighing about 15kgs, were buried under the track and detonated when the train arrived at the spot.
Authorities claimed the overall situation in the far South has improved as low-level informal peace talks have been held with several insurgent groups culminating in the "defection" of some 93 suspected insurgents and sympathisers in the past few months.
But the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) thinks otherwise.
After its Nov 15-17 meeting in Djibouti, the OIC issued a resolution saying Thailand has made "meagre" progress in addressing the unrest problem in the deep South.
It also expressed disapproval of the continued use of the emergency decree in the region and of the government's increasing reliance on "undisciplined" paramilitary forces.
The OIC's negative view of Thailand's handling of the unrest problem has caused disappointment to the Foreign Ministry, especially with the use of the word "meagre"to describe the lack of progress.
Given the violent incidents which take place on an almost daily basis and the fact the emergency decree is still enforceable, it is hardly convincing for the authorities to claim that the situation has improved.
Although violent incidents have dropped and low-level peace talks are underway with insurgent groups, there have not been any new and significant initiatives from the government pertaining to the unrest problem.
Even the idea of a special administration for the deep South which was widely debated in the region has not actually got off the ground.
For the time being, the sad truth is there is still no solution to the southern conflict.
Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor