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With a Muslim insurgency threatening to destabilize Thailand’s south, armed soldiers have begun shadowing the area’s Buddhist monks as they make their daily rounds begging for alms.

“With its barbed wire, sandbag bunker and armed guard, Wat Lak Muang in Thailand’s strife-torn deep south looks more like a military outpost than a typical Buddhist temple,” writes Didier Lauras for AFP, the French news agency:

Since a deadly insurgency erupted in the Muslim-dominated region seven years ago, the army has become inseparable from religious rituals in the region, where troops live side-by-side with monks in monasteries.

Since 2004, Thailand’s three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, near the border with Malaysia, have been riven by a complex insurgency that has claimed more than 4,800 lives, both Buddhists and Muslims.

In the early morning, monks in pairs go on the traditional collection of alms — normally gifts of food — from the Buddhist faithful in the centre of Pattani, reciting prayers as they go. It could be a scene from anywhere in the country — apart from the armed bodyguards who closely follow the monks, surveying each doorway, blocking access to each street.

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