Against the backdrop of the ongoing insurgency, the "Pattani Jaya" community development project is getting under way to offer a glimmer of hope for desperate local people afflicted by daily violence.
An image of the shopping mall to be built in the Pattani Jaya complex.
The project, which covers 1,300 rai in Muang district, is aimed at improving local people's quality of life in the three predominantly Muslim southernmost provinces.
It includes the construction of a university, a hospital, a shopping complex, a mosque, a housing estate, green spaces, recreational areas, a health centre, a research centre, a museum, an Islamic cultural centre and a business zone, among other things, in the heart of Muang district.
The project is also aimed at the requirements that will come into play with the establishment of the Asean Community (AC) in 2015 and the arrival of Muslim people from all over the world.
The scheme is expected to be completed and opened in two years.
Violence has continued unabated in the deep South for almost a decade and has taken its toll on all sectors in the region.
The daily violence is partly to blame for a slide in the country's GDP and has scared off many potential investors who want to get involved in business in the southern region.
However, the violence is not hampering the efforts to build a new town designed to contain facilities for communities in Pattani and its neighbouring provinces - Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla - as well as for people from neighbouring countries.
Under the project, the country's first Islamic hospital will be set up, with the management system and halal services to comply with Islamic teachings and culture.
When the AC is launched in 2015, the hospital, which is now under construction, is expected to serve Muslim people who make up more than half of the population of Asean countries.
Ismail Lutfi Chapakiya, rector of the Yala Islamic University based in Pattani and chief adviser to the Madinah Al-Salam Foundation, which runs the project, said fellow Thais in many provinces and foreigners are trying to help restore peace to Pattani and allow it to reclaim its status as a centre of prosperity as in the past. This has led to the establishment of the foundation to run the project.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani—the previous ruler of Qatar.
Currently, the construction of the mosque has been completed. Other construction projects, particularly the hospital and the first-phase housing estate, are still under way.
Mr Ismail said the project is designed to respond to the needs of local people who want peace and unity.
Even though the project is located in Pattani, it will benefit various groups of people here and abroad, he said.
Mr Ismail regularly visits and inspects the progress of construction of the hospital, named Sheikh Jasim Bin Muhammad Bin Thani.
The hospital construction project is funded by a donation of about US$7 million (211 million baht) from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani - the previous ruler of Qatar who abdicated on June 25, 2013. Construction is expected to be finished in 2015.
Mr Ismail said the housing estate project is intended to be a model for a large closely-knit Muslim community. Seven houses in the estate have been built so far.
"Everything must begin with confidence and faith in Allah who will guide those who have good intentions," Mr Ismail said.
Of the 1,300 rai set aside for the project, 800 rai will be made up of donated land plots.
Mr Ismail said Yala Islamic University (YIU) has also received financial assistance from the former ruler of Qatar for the construction of buildings and student dormitories.
Established in 1998, YIU is a private Islamic university in Pattani's Yarang district run by a group of local Muslims.
He said when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit the provinces on the Andaman coast of Thailand in 2004, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani also gave financial aid to the victims.
The generosity and kindness of the former ruler of Qatar has contributed greatly to boosting relations between Thailand and Qatar, he said.
Dr Anantchai Thaiprathan, who is tipped to be director of the hospital, said the hospital project is a collaboration of the university and other agencies to provide healthcare and medical services and to produce medical and healthcare personnel based on Islamic teachings and the way of life of local Muslims.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani made personal donations to fund the construction of the hospital, he said.
The hospital, which covers 64 rai of the Pattani Jaya project site, is run by the foundation.
Dr Anantchai Thaiprathan, tipped to be first director of Sheikh Jasim Bin Muhammad Bin Thani Hospital.
Dedicated medical personnel will be recruited to work for the hospital.
"Since it is an Islamic hospital, personnel must have sound intentions. Doctors must be ready to devote themselves to the right path," Dr Anantchai said.
The hospital will initially have about 90 medical personnel. Of them, 10 will be doctors and 30 will be nurses and the rest office staff and employees, he said.
After three to four years of operation, the hospital must have doctors who specialise in every field.
After five years, the hospital will aim to receive accreditation from the Joint Commission International, the leading hospital accreditation body, Dr Anantchai said.
He added there is also a project to offer home-stay services on the hospital's 64-rai premises to cater to the "physical, mental and spiritual" needs of patients.
He said the services will conform to Islamic teachings and moral values while personnel are required to go through a rigorous selection process to ensure they are truly decent people who can respond to the needs of the patients.
"We will adhere to our intention to create the best hospital and incorporate Islamic teachings and features for the best possible result [for patients]," Dr Anantchai said.
He said YIU will soon be renamed Fatoni University.
The new name is awaiting approval by the university's council.
The university's applied science and health science faculties will be moved to the new location on the premises of the hospital.
"The university aims to reclaim the reputation of Pattani as the cradle of Islamic education. In the future, we hope Muslim students from Indonesia and Malaysia will come to study here," Dr Anantchai said.
He said the Thai Islamic Medical Association and the university have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a foundation for medical science and charity.
He said the hospital also plans to set up a faculty of nursing. Some nurses will be sent to study in Brunei while others will be sent to pursue doctorate and master's degrees in Malaysia to become nursing teachers at the new faculty.
New graduates in medical science from universities in the region will also be approached to work at the hospital.
Dr Anantchai said Qatar has donated about 30 million baht to support the plan to train doctors and nurses and to seek other medical staff.
An artist’s impression of the Pattani Jaya community development project covering 1,300 rai in Muang district of Pattani.
An image of Sheikh Jasim Bin Muhammad Bin Thani Hospital. Construction is financed by a donation of about 211 million baht from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani—the previous ruler of Qatar. It should be open in 2015.
A signing ceremony was held in Pattani last year between Qatar and the Madinah Al-Salam Foundation Thailand. Qatar has pledged funds to relocate the Pattani-based Yala Islamic University to Pattani Jaya and to fund the construction of its hospital.
Ismail Lutfi Chapakiya, rector of Yala Islamic University, inspects construction of the hospital.
The hospital construction site. PHOTOS ABDULLOHBENJAKAT