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Thailand helps victims of violence to perform Hajj

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The government and private sponsors paid for the travel costs of a group of Muslims, including some who lost loved ones to the Deep South insurgency.

By Maluding Tido

Hat Yai: Over a thousand relatives were on hand at Hat Yai Airport on Friday (November 9th) to welcome the return of a special group of 120 pilgrims from Mecca – a small fraction of the 8,000 Thai Muslims who made the pilgrimage this year with 1.28 billion baht ($41.8m) in government assistance.

Returning Thai pilgrims gather their things at Hat Yai Airport on Friday (November 9th). The government helped pay for 8,000 Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, including relatives of victims of the insurgency.

Under an initiative by the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC), Muslims who made significant charitable and other contributions to society were eligible to receive state assistance in making the 45-day Hajj, a sacred duty for every practitioner of the faith.

But the government also earmarked assistance for those who have been directly affected by the violent Deep South insurgency, including many who lost family members. It was this group which was welcomed back on Friday.

Among those greeting the returning pilgrims was Tawee Sodsong, secretary-general of the SBPAC, the government agency currently tasked with charting a course for peace in the region.
Tawee, who flew to Saudi Arabia to assist the pilgrims during their stay, was accompanied by his two deputies, Piya Kitthawon and Anake Yomjinda.

The pilgrims were flown to Mecca and put in hotels at a cost of 160,000 baht ($5,200) each, courtesy of the Thai government and sponsors including Hilton Hotels and Thai International Airways.

Pilgrims dedicate prayers to slain family members

One of the returning pilgrims was Prasit Karsor, head of the Islamic Services Office at the Yala Educational Service Area Office 1 in Yala Town, who lost a son.

"I feel that this action is equitable and demonstrates a commitment by the government towards healing that is even more important than the financial compensation we received," he said, in reference to another SBPAC programme that paid out up to 7m baht ($228,500) in damages to families of those killed by state officers using excessive force.

"Today I dedicate my prayers to the soul of my beloved son who was lost to the violence," he added.

Korleeyor Hahlee, whose father was killed in the Krue Sae Mosque massacre in Pattani on April 28th, 2004, said, "Today I feel as if Thai pilgrims on the Hajj pilgrimage have been elevated to a new level by the Thai government and SBPAC. Also signalling a new beginning is the fact that Tawee personally came to greet all 8,000 Thais in Saudi Arabia during our stay there."

"This makes me feel like we got the highest level of care. Today I don't want us to be thought of as victims, but rather as recipients of justice that we are entitled to," he said.

It is hoped that those who completed the pilgrimage will help local officials solve problems and develop the southernmost provinces, especially through dissemination of the Islamic doctrine that calls for peaceful co-existence. The recipients also received financial aid intended to help them run successful businesses.

"This was my first-ever opportunity to make a Hajj pilgrimage and it really increased my knowledge. It was a great 45 days because we could take part in the Hajj ceremonies conveniently every day, as our hotel was comfortable and located very close to sites," said Yaena Lalaemae, a 55-year-old gardener from Takbai district, Narathiwat, who lost her husband.

"This year my pilgrimage was for myself, but I intend to use my own money to attend another Hajj in the future on behalf of the soul of my late husband."

Yindee Saelaow, from Yaha district, Yala, said, "I pray to Allah to bring peace to the southern border region. My prayers go out to one and all, including for the happiness of Tawee, who we pray will lead us for as long as possible into the future."

(Courtesy: Khabar Southeast Asia)
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