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Tensions rise in Thailand and the Philippines as the world focuses on Myanmar

Updated On: Oct 05, 2007

While the whole world focuses on the upheaval in Myanmar, other important hotspots in Southeast Asia are being overlooked.

The killings in South Thailand have intensified in the past weeks with the shooting of a soldier and 2 other men this week in Yala and Pattani. 9 bombs went off in Narathiwat on Monday (1 October 2007) while an elementary school in Pattani was also razed on Wednesday (3 October). However, the most shocking news this week has been the release of a video clip showing the brutalities of the insurgents. One was of the beheading a soldier while the other was of the killing of a Buddhist couple and then the beheading of the husband. PM Surayud has expressed his disappointment saying that the concession to lift the curfew for Ramadan out of respect for the Muslim inhabitants has only resulted in more violence. Surayud said, “Violence is increasing during Ramadan, which reflects that militants have no faith in religious teachings.”

Things are not going well in Southern Philippines either. Just last month there was high optimism that Malaysia would continue to facilitate the peace process between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). However, Malaysia is getting impatient after four postponements in the peace talks because of last year’s disagreements over the size and wealth of a proposed ancestral homeland for Muslims on the southern island of Mindanao. Talks have been unable to resume as tensions keep rising between the Philippine army and the MILF. Just last week during the informal talks in Kuala Lumpur, both sides accused each other of breaking the truce in Basilan after the Philippine army pursued the Abu Sayyaf rebels (another militant group with close links to the MILF).

According to Mohaqher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief negotiator, a frustrated Malaysia is threatening to pull out its 60 peace monitors in a bid to get both sides to resume talks. Iqbal added that “any withdrawal of Malaysian soldiers would endanger the truce and harm implementation of development projects”. He also reported that last week’s informal talks held incremental progress –there remained no agreement on how to deal with the territorial aspect of the ancestral domain. Iqbal said that the territorial dispute was a “high-risk negotiation” that could scupper the whole deal. He laid the burden on the Philippine authorities, saying that things would move a lot faster if the Philippine government had the political will to conclude the peace process.

In contrast to Thailand and the PhilippinesIndonesia seems to be more hopeful regarding its internal conflicts. Amazingly enough, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo A.S. has told Antara that “In general, security conditions in the three areas are relatively conducive to peace ... there are almost no armed conflicts”. There have been only small criminal incidents in Aceh over dissatisfaction with tsunami rehabilitation works or with post-conflict reintegration efforts, while the implementation in Papua of a special autonomy status and subsequent developments had eased security problems throughout there and West Papua. However, Papuan separatism still continues. The armed group called the “Free Papua Organization” (OPM) is considered a threat despite its small size and is constantly trying to internationalise its cause.

This is because although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has promised to bring peace and development to Papua, little has been achieved under the 2001 special autonomy agreement. Now, the West Papua Coalition for National Liberation (WPCNL), an umbrella organisation which includes the Free Papua Movement (OPM), has written to Yudhoyono asking for a peace dialogue with the government with third-party mediators, mirroring the peace process in Aceh.

Damien Kingsbury, an associate professor at Australia's Deakin University, who advised on the Aceh peace talks, said, “A deal means Indonesia would have to pull out the military, allow genuine democracy, international human rights monitors, an economic redistribution, and the creation of political parties. Papua would be looking at creating a more democratic political environment in keeping with Indonesia's own democratisation. That could contribute to a more secure investment climate for Papua with the support of local Papuans.”

Sources:

Beheading video seized, three dead in Thai south (AFP, 3 October 2007)

No MILF accord after meeting (Manila Times, 3 October 2007)

Conflict areas more peaceful: Govt. (Jakarta Post, 3 October 2007)

Malaysia may pull peace monitors from Philippines (Reuters, 2 October 2007)

Papuan independence groups seek talks with Indonesia (Reuters, 1 October 2007)

Bomb blasts in Thailand's restive south kills 1, wounds 12 (IHT, 30 September 2007)