The violence in the deep South could reduce by half if the authorities and Thais in general accepted and respected Thai-Malay Muslims' distinct identity, Muslim scholar Somchai Phaejit said.
"If we just look without bias at the identity of Muslims in the southern-border provinces and accept the reality that they're different from those [Thais] from the other regions and even from [others] in the southern region, bad things can then turn into good," Somchai said.
He was speaking yesterday at an event at the Naimatul Islam Mosque in Bangkok that commemorated the deaths of more than 6,000 people from the conflict over the past 10 years.
It was organised by Dhammasatharn by Mahidol University's Institute for Human Rights and Peace Studies at Chulalongkorn University.
Somchai urged Thais to stop seeing Thai-Malay Muslims' distinct identity as a threat but instead learn to embrace the diversity.
He cited Bangkok's China Town of Yaowaraj as an example of peaceful coexistence.
Eighty per cent of people living in the deep South are Thai-Malay Muslims.
Somchai said that while the region had a distinct language, culture, religion, traditions and ethnicity, it should not be a problem if Thai-Malay Muslims' identity was fully accepted by other Thais.
"Thai Buddhists in southern-border provinces can coexist |with Thai Muslims because |the Thai Buddhists accepted |the identity of Thai Muslims and Thai Muslims love Thai Buddhists as their brothers and sisters," he said.
Somchai said there were still people in power and Thais in general who regarded Thai-Malay Muslims as non-Thai while disregarding their call for autonomy.
He warned that the spate of violence would only breed further distrust and vengefulness among relatives of victims if it continued.
He urged the authorities to stop human rights violations against suspected separatists.
"Some people who were detained for seven days [under martial law] without charge were assaulted. This can only breed more vengeance," he said.
Up to two people on average were summoned without charge by the military every day over the past 10 years, the forum was told.
As of April, 631 children aged under 15 had been killed in the past 10 years and the total death toll was 6,159.
The Institute for Human Rights and Peace Studies produced 1,000 postcards that will be sent to relatives of those killed this year in a gesture of moral support.
Four relatives of people killed spoke yesterday.
"People live in fear," said Yaowapa Kewanpetch, a resident of Pattani, whose aunt was killed in a bomb explosion while her 12-year-old daughter remains in intensive care.
Supamee Samada, a Thai-Malay Muslim from Yala whose father was shot to death, said he was clueless as to who was behind the violence in the deep South today.