On the day that security forces promised improved safety for teachers, a school teacher in the deep South was shot and killed.
Village school teacher Chatsuda Nilsuwan, 32, was riding home on her motorcycle after classes. She was the 155th teacher killed in just under nine years of violence in the southernmost provinces.
About the time a gunman murdered Chatsuda, a 15-strong gang of armed men invaded Ban Thasu School in neighbouring Pattani. They rounded up staff trying to guard the school and held them at gunpoint. They then torched the main building, destroying offices, books and computers. No one was harmed _ except the students who have no materials, school offices and the like.
Monday was the day that teachers in Pattani returned to work to reopen the province's 332 state schools. The teachers and administrators closed all classrooms last week after insurgents killed the 154th victim of the anti-teacher barbarism.
State officials met urgently with the Confederation of Teachers in the Southern Border Provinces, and promised better security.
That promise became meaningless when Chatsuda was shot and killed. The arson at Ban Thasu School in Pattani emphasised the emptiness of the serial vows by state officials since 2004 to increase security and to provide better protection.
The targeting of teachers, school officials and classrooms is a well-known tactic of the insurgents in the deep South. Indeed, it repeats the tactics of the violent rebellion of the 1980s. The insurgents claim the school system is a strong symbol of the Thai state _ and that is their supposed target. For them, the existence of a school with teachers is a good enough reason to murder, maim and burn the innocent.
Rational people do not feel that way. Killing teachers in no way advances any supposed "cause". Burning schools sets back the chances of southern children, and the hopes of parents and communities. The terrorist-type attacks on teachers and schools will in no way advance the already bankrupt aims of the militants.
There is, however, one impressive, phenomenon of the past nine years of slaughter and destruction in the southernmost provinces. It is that teachers and students continue to return to the schools. When they are torched, communities pitch in to rebuild them. Students have sat under trees on grass tufts to continue their lessons. They have been strongly supported by their parents who, like mothers and fathers everywhere, want to provide opportunities for their children.
The bravery and dedication of the teachers in the South is hugely admirable. Teachers and administrators in the region come from local villages, and from all over Thailand. Clearly, they do not work for the material rewards. The salaries are low and the benefits, especially in what are effectively war zones, are minuscule.
The teachers of the South deserve special thanks and appreciation from the whole country. And they merit something else _ proper protection from security forces.It has been nearly nine years, 155 teachers have been slain, dozens of schools have been burnt and thousands of opportunities have been denied to children of the deep South. It is time to end the promises and provide them with genuine safety.