New Year is usually a time for new hopes and resolutions.
However, in Thailand, the Thai New Year Songkran, began with a tragedy after a flash flood killed at least 37 people in a sea-side resort in Southern Thailand. Torrents of water poured over the waterfalls in Trang, about 700 km south of Bangkok.
Elsewhere in South Thailand, violence continues. On Friday 13 April, a 12-man military unit opened fire on three unarmed teenagers (aged 13 to 15 years old) who had been playing on the road, killing two of them. This led to a protest by 300 angry residents, demanding for an investigation into the incident. The Pattani Governor Panu Uthairath, Deputy Commander of the Internal Security Operation Command Colonel Wirawan Pathompark and Commander of Pattani Provincial Police, Major-General Korkiert Wongworachart met with a relative of the victims and agreed to an investigation into the matter. They agreed to transfer the military unit out of the province and make a public apology if the unit was in the wrong.
This incident is part of a series of episodes in which seemingly poorly trained front-line security personnel have killed or injured unarmed civilians. However, few if ever, soldiers and officers have been prosecuted for such mistakes.
On the other hand, the security forces are having a difficult time in maintaining stability. On Friday, a bomb exploded at a busy market, wounding 11 people. Another bomb exploded in the bathroom of Yala’s main bus terminal with no injuries. Four other bombs were defused. The recent series of bombing came a day after suspected insurgents shot and burned a graduate Patcharaporn Boonmart apparently in retaliation for Monday’s shooting of four unarmed Muslim youths by a group of Village Defense Volunteers (VDV). The death of Patacharaporn led to a protest of 200 residents who wanted assurance that security for Buddhists would be improved.
On Sunday, the State Rail Railway of Thailand (SRT) suspended train services between Yala and Narathiwat after an insurgent attack on a train which was heading from Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat to Nakhon Si Thammarat. The train’s engineer and a five year old girl were wounded. The SRT spokesman said that the SRT would only resume service when the situation is deemed to be safe.
The Human Rights Watch's representative in Thailand, Sunai Pasuk, said expectations from the Malay-speaking community had been high when Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont came to power. However, many of these expectations have not been met and “security forces continue to use excessive force, resulting in many deaths” and they “continue to walk away from their crimes.” The situation is worsening and complicated by the further deterioration of relations among the military, Buddhists and Muslims.
Perhaps these expectations have been too high to start with. Nevertheless, Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont is facing increased pressure to reshuffle his Cabinet, a move likely after the Songkran festival. The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) coordinator, Suriyasai Katasila praised the impending move to reshuffle cabinet, saying that change was needed to remove the ‘old clique’ which had obstructed the anti-graft investigation by the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC). The PAD had also earlier accused Surayud of ‘being soft’ and over Thaksin and for his ‘indecisiveness.’
There were also rumours of another coup though they were dismissed by Surayud who said that there was no need for a coup since he would quit immediately if asked to. (16 April 2007)
Growing Calls for Shake-Up (Today, 16 April 2007)
37 Dies in Thai Flash Flood (Today, 16 April 2007)
Protest Ends After Assurances (The Nation, 16 April 2007)
Southern Violence (Bangkok Post, 16 April 2007)
Tensions Rise in Thai South After Violent Attacks (Straits Times, 16 April 2007)
Explosion at Yala Market Injures 11 (The Nation, 14 April 2007)
PAD Hails Cabinet Reshuffle Plan (Bangkok Post, 14 April 2007)
Surayud: I’ll Stay On, But… (The Nation, 14 April 2007)