The violence in South Thailand is getting to a worrying stage to attract comments from the US special operations commander for the Pacific.
Maj-Gen David Fridovich was quoted as saying that he was concerned about the rising violence in Thailand’s restive South and offered to help train Thai forces to quell the insurgency if Thai authorities asked for assistance.
His offer has however been rejected by Thai Army Commander and leader of the Council on National Security (CNS) General Sonthi Boonyaratglin. General Sonthi reiterated that the situation in the south is a purely an internal affair and maintained that international terrorists do not operate in the area, adding that Thai forces can cope with the situation. However, with the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) apparently more concerned about possible protests in Bangkokrather than the South, it is no wonder that situation in the South appeared increasingly desperate.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concern with the Thai authorities’ use of “abusive militias” for security in the troubled region. Responding to last week’s shooting of unarmed Muslim boys by paramilitary forces in the South, the group issued a statement to highlight the problems related to the use of militias, adding that “reliance on militias placed civilians at increasing risk”.
Brad Adams, Asia Director for HRW noted that while villagers in the troubled region had the right to defend themselves, he cautioned the Thai government that examples from around the world “have shown how ill-disciplined volunteer militias use weapons improperly and set off a vicious cycle of reprisal attacks against civilians”. He also criticized the Thai government for allowing these militia and paramilitary forces immunity from justice, and called on the Thai authorities to “discipline, and where necessary prosecute Army rangers and any other irregular forces that commit abuses”.
However, these are likely to fall on deaf ears as attention of the top leaders in Thailand now is on the politics of the draft charter and fending off increasing criticisms and opposition to their rule. Chairman of the CNS, Sonthi has instructed agencies to keep abreast of any protest plans in Bangkok in response to speculation that anti-CNS groups would infiltrate with those people returning to Bangkok after the Songkran holiday to join in a mass demonstration in the city.
Meanwhile, the proposed new charter revealed to the public yesterday (18 April) has sparked a string of criticisms.
The draft charter contained provisions limiting the prime minister to two 4-year terms in office, and reducing the number of MPs required to sponsor a motion to remove the premier from 200 to 100. The size of the Parliament will also be reduced – the senate will be down from 200 to 160 and Members of Parliament in the Lower House will be reduced from 500 to 400. It also called for the Senate to be appointed and not elected.
The charter does not specify that Buddhism should be the state religion - a potentially controversial provision that several nationalist sectors had lobbied for.
Secretary-general of the group, Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD), Suriyasai Katasila said that the new constitution would weaken people’s power as well as that of the politicians. Others are against the idea of appointing senators fearing that it would allow a patronage system, and called on constitution drafters to retain the election of senators.
The first draft of the new charter has now to be discussed and approved by the 100-member Constitutional Drafting Assembly, which will meet next week. Once approved, there will be seminars and public hearings to familiarize the public with the draft charter before it is put to vote at a national referendum in September.
US offer to help quell insurgency in the south rejected (STI, 19 April 2007)
US ready to train Thai forces if asked (Bangkok Post, 19 April 2007)
Sonthi: Isoc’s top priority to end disunity in the country (Bangkok Post, 19 April 2007)
More protests likely in Bangkok (Bangkok Post, 19 April 2007)
Anti-coup groups rally against draft charter (The Nation, 19 April 2007)
Thailand using militias in the south, group says (The Nation, 19 April 2007)
Isoc warns about militants’ new tactics (The Nation, 19 April 2007)
People’s power will be hit by charter: CPD (The Nation, 19 April 2007)
Thai premier will have less power under new charter (Straits Times, 19 April 2007)