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No respite for the South Thailand insurgency despite OIC’s endorsement of amnesty offer by Thai government

Updated On: May 04, 2007

It must be extremely disappointing for the people of the southern Thai provinces.

Three years on, their government has not set in place any effective measures to safeguard their well-being. If anything, the situation seems to get worse as the days go by.

It would be expected then if the Southerners were hoping that this week’s visit by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu would chastise the Thai authorities to shape up and bring about real improvement. However, the Bernama reported Ihsanoglu announcing after his Tuesday meeting with Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram that the OIC supported “the measures taken by the government and hoped to cooperate for the better future of the people there”. He said, “We had a very good meeting... we have more common than differing views. We are encouraged by the new government policy towards the Muslim population.” This must have been a rather surprising outcome as the OIC has always gently urged the Thai authorities to treat the Muslims of the South better.

In reaction to PM Surayud Chulanont’s announcement that “the government agreed to propose an amnesty bill for the National Legislative Assembly to consider”, Ihsanoglu also added, “I think by announcing the amnesty during my visit, the government is sending a message that it's committed to a peaceful solution…The initiative of the government is appreciated and we welcome that,”, the Nation noted. This proposed amnesty is aimed at insurgents who “did not commit an offence under the Penal Code”.

Moreover, Ihsanoglu had firm words for the Muslims in the South, according to the Nation. At a meeting at the Foundation of the Islamic Centre of Thailand, Ihsanoglu said, “We consider all Muslim minorities to be under the Ummah (one Muslim community) doctrine, but Muslims should also be good citizens and respect the laws of the countries they live in.” However, he had instructions for Thailand as well, saying, “Muslims should also have the same rights as the rest of the population… Islam is a religion of moderation and a religion of peace… Any action against humanity was not acceptable… People should not associate terrorists and violence with Islam.”

It is difficult to know what to make of this and how the plight of the Southerners is to improve after the OIC announcements. This is especially so with the two thousand Buddhist monks’ strident calls to make Buddhism the state religion and the support of Queen Sirikit for the Buddhist community in the South. Now, the Council of National Security chairman Sonthi Boonyaratglin has been described in a Straits Times commentary as being “an authoritarian first, a Thai nationalist second and only incidentally a Muslim”.

Sonthi has been in express support of enshrining Buddhism in the proposed Charter. He declared, “If a stipulation in the charter to this effect leads to peace in the country, then it is better that it is included… Those who say there is no need for such a stipulation don’t take the issue that seriously.” In reaction to queries as to this measure worsening the deep South rift, Sonthi nonchalantly replied, “Whether or not the stipulation is added to the Constitution, these thugs will continue their attacks.” It now seems that the Thai authorities are quite resigned to the Southern conflict to the possibility of its escalation, even to the extent of breaking out into a fill-fledged civil war, the Straits Times article observed.

On other matters, the Thai authorities are expending much energy and money to repair Thailand’s international image, as well as to make sure Thaksin is pinned down by the law. This week, the government is set to hire a US public-relations firm in a bid to outshine Thaksin. (2 May 2007)

Sources:

OIC praises amnesty bill (Nation, 2 May 2007)

Muslims should behave and have equal rights, says OIC (Nation, 2 May 2007)

OIC Happy With Thai Govt. measures In The South (Bernama, 30 April 2007)

PM wants majority-backed charter (Bangkok Post, 1 May 2007) 

Other religions not opposed to enshrining Buddhism as state religion: Sonthi (Nation, 1 May 2007)

PR campaign 'to counter Thaksin' (Bangkok Post, 1 May 2007)

A highly addictive drug takes hold (Straits Times, 1 May 2007)

Thai PM to grant amnesty to rebels (Straits Times, 2 May 2007)

Thailand in Bottom 10 on press freedom (Bangkok Post, 2 May 2007)

Govt. to hire US firm for public-relations battle with Thaksin (Nation, 1 May 2007)

Surakiart testifies he opposed Burma loan (Bangkok Post, 1 May 2007) 

PR campaign 'to counter Thaksin' (Bangkok Post, 1 May 2007)

Thaksin accused over 'hot money' Nation, 1 May 2007)