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Extracted from the Bangkok Post: Bangkok Post


Advisers suggest national Islamic affairs office


By Pradit Ruangdit


Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont's advisory team on Islamic affairs is set to revamp the 1997 Islamic Organisation Administration Act and propose the establishment of a national Islamic affairs office to try to quell southern strife.


The team, led by the prime minister's adviser Nidir Waba, held a brainstorming session with more than 70 Islamic experts from the southern provinces and Bangkok at Government House yesterday to discuss the act's amendment.


Niran Pantharakit, director of the Chularatchamontri's Office and spokesman for the Islamic law amendment team, said the team agreed unanimously that the legislation, enforced for more than 10 years, was partly to blame for the escalating violence in the Muslim-dominated provinces.


An important issue to be amended is the recruitment of religious authorities at all levels as well as the organisational structure, said Mr Niran.


Currently, religious authorities, ranging from imams to members of provincial Islamic committees and the Chularatchamontri spiritual leader, are elected.


The election process has led to disputes among some Islamic leaders competing for the posts. His team will suggest that religious authorities be selected through a screening process.


Also, no Islamic leaders wanted to take charge of streamlining Thai Muslims' education about Islamic principles as the agencies in charge of Islamic affairs have been working separately under different ministries.


The team will propose the establishment of a national Islamic affairs office under the umbrella of the Prime Minister's Office. The new office is expected to carry out similar responsibilities to the Office of National Buddhism, also supervised by the PM's Office, said Mr Niran.


The legal amendment team will hold public hearings in southern and central provinces to gather people's opinions on the initiative before drafting the amendment, he said.


Mr Niran expects the team to finish the draft amendment by the end of March and propose it to the National Legislative Assembly later on.

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