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9/19/2006

Canadian teacher killed in Thailand — Toronto man, 29, and three others die in bomb attacks in restive south

Filed under: global islands,thailand — admin @ 6:15 am

A 29-year-old Canadian schoolteacher who died in a weekend bombing in southern Thailand was a footloose traveller from Toronto who had recently settled into a full-time home.

“He was really happy there and was finally getting into a groove,” said Jessie Lee Daniel’s aunt, Sue Jones. “He loved Thailand.”

Mr. Daniel was one of four people who died in a series of bombings that ripped through a neighbourhood in Hat Yai, southern Thailand’s biggest city, as extremists expanded their attacks beyond traditional targets.

Five bombs exploded simultaneously in tourist spots in the city’s business district, Police Major-General Paitoom Pattanasophon told reporters yesterday, including two at department stores and one at a hotel. Three Thais also died and dozens more people were injured, including several other foreigners.
Mr. Daniel had been teaching at Phol Vidhya School in Hat Yai since arriving in Thailand last November. He was the first Western fatality in an insurgency that has gone on for three years.

Mr. Daniel was an accomplished photographer with a passion for dancing, said Ms. Jones, a resident of Trenton, Ont., with whom Mr. Daniel lived for several years after his mother died in 1995. “He was just like my soulmate,” Ms. Jones said in an interview. “He was such a good kid, so genuine.”

She said that her nephew’s hero was Australian “crocodile hunter” Steve Irwin — killed by a stingray earlier this month — because Mr. Irwin embodied Mr. Daniel’s gregarious, adventuresome spirit.

Mr. Daniel, formerly a factory worker in the Toronto area, discovered a love of teaching once he arrived in Thailand.

“The kids called him ‘Teacher Beckham,’ because he looked a little bit like [English soccer star] David Beckham,” Ms. Jones said.

He had also lived briefly in Costa Rica and California in recent years. “He was especially excited about seeing elephants when he got to Thailand,” his aunt said.

She said Mr. Daniel had a Thai girlfriend and had made many friends. When the explosions took place Saturday night, he was eating in a local restaurant with a friend who had just arrived from Toronto. Mr. Daniel was one of the first to reach the street after the first wave of bombs, Ms. Jones said. At that moment, another bomb exploded, killing him. His remains will be cremated and returned to Canada.

Since a January, 2004, raid on a government weapons depot, more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers have died in a bloody conflict between the Thai army and Muslim separatist insurgents in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, known as the Red Zone.

Thirty people were injured in explosions at Hat Yai’s airport and a supermarket in April, 2005. The primary targets of all the attacks in the past three years have been have Thai Buddhist teachers and government workers.

More than 80 per cent of the people in the three provinces are Yawi-speaking Muslims, but 90 per cent of government officials are Thai-speaking Buddhists. This has created a linguistic barrier and cultural divide between the authorities and the residents that dates back to the signing of the Anglo-Siamese agreement in 1909, when Thailand annexed the three provinces.

In recent months, more than 100 Thai teachers fearing for their lives have applied for transfers to other provinces. In an effort to halt the exodus, the government is offering weapons training and discount prices on handguns for teachers.

“The school is very well known for English lessons. There are about 10 foreigners teaching there right now,” said former Phol Vidhya student Noon Wandee, 23, who was instructing at a nearby computer shop Saturday night. “I was very scared. I didn’t think this would happen again after the bombing last year.”

The region has seen long periods of martial law and has attracted the attention of international human-rights groups.

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