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Thai Prime Minister checked into hospital amidst flagging popularity and continued problems in the Thai South

Updated On: Apr 10, 2007

Thai Premier Surayad Chulanont who was scheduled to be at a discussion forum in the South next week might not be there as rumours of his resignation were rife as he checked himself into hospital on Monday (9 Apr). 

The first things that PM Surayad did when he was appointed by the coup leaders to head the interim government was to try to “heal the South”.  Unfortunately, for all the talk of improving the situation in the South, the situation has only gotten worse.

Security analysts, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the international community at large have been concerned about the escalation of violence, the rampant abuse of human rights, and the potential for the Southern provinces to become a hotspot of international terrorism.

Neighbouring Malaysia is obviously the most worried. It has regularly shown readiness to cooperate with Thailand to quell the violence. However, all its friendly overtures and bilateral talks have come to naught. There has been talk of socio-economic cooperation as a long-term solution to bring about lasting peace. However, nothing much has resulted from the discussions as yet.

Now, Malaysia is taking quite the hands-off approach. According to Radio AustraliaMalaysia “Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar says they do not want to be mediators unless the Thai side says there is a need for it”. He added that “Malaysia could share experiences in managing its multi-ethnic mix and resolving poverty, which both countries say is a factor in the southern Thai unrest” but  it is “essentially [Thailand’s] internal situation”.

More troubles have added on to the authorities’ worries even as they are confident of finding out the identities of the top insurgents behind the renewed violence soon. The Bangkok Post reported that deputy commander of the Fourth Army, Kasikorn Khirisri, said that “the large number of Muslims being recruited to the army in the restive South has become a security concern as some are suspected of working as moles for insurgent groups”. “Among the three provinces, Yala has achieved a record high of new recruits, especially in the curfew-imposed districts of Bannang Sata and Yaha”, the Bangkok Post noted. However Kasikorn says that the army will give them the benefit of the doubt, saying, “Even if they are found later to be sympathisers of separatist groups, we still welcome them because we believe we can change their attitude during military training.”

This is in line with the series of peaceful overtures that PM Surayud has put in place ever since his apology to the Muslim community last year. Moreover, Surayud has now “revoked the offers made by the previous administration as it was felt that these forced the militants further into the shadows”, Gen. Wattanachai Chaimuenwong (a former Third Army Commander) has said. This includes “Sapaeing Basor, former principal of Thammawitthaya school in Yala… the most wanted [man as] he is said to chair the secretive Dewan Pimpinan Party (DPP), which aims to create an independent state of Pattani”, the Bangkok Post said. Gen. Wattanachai also said that violence in the deep South had “increased because Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and al-Qaeda have come into play with help from an old power clique in Malaysia”.

Thailand is set for more trouble as Buddhist leaders seek to entrench Buddhism as the national religion. Already the attempt to launch the Islamic Affairs Administration Bill which seeks to change “the recruitment system, from election to selection, of Islamic committees and organisations at all levels… If approved, the bill will replace the three existing acts, including the 1997 Islamic Organisation Administration Act, and the 1981 and 1989 Haj Affairs Promotion acts” has met with much opposition due to lack of public opinion, the Bangkok Post stated.

Surin Pitsuwan, a member of the National Legislative Assembly, said that “there should be public hearings on the bill”. Mohamad Adam, a member of the now-defunct National Reconciliation Committee (NRC), said “public participation was unavoidable, particularly in the three Muslim-dominated Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat provinces”. Niran Pantarakit, a Mahidol University lecturer and member of the drafting committee, has “dismissed concerns about the lack of public participation in the drafting process, saying, “We are going to hold a major forum for imams in the far South on the issue soon.”

Whatever it is, Mettanando Bhikkhu, a Thai Buddhist monk and special adviser on Buddhist affairs to the secretary-general of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, wrote a commentary in the Bangkok Post warning that “if Buddhism is given this privilege, the new constitution will immediately create deep resentment among non-Buddhist Thais. The result could be stronger than that of Sri Lanka's continuing violence. Driven by Buddhist nationalism, Thailand will instigate another wave of political instability in Southeast Asia, and lead the nation into endless trouble”. (10 April 2007)

Sources:

Thai premier in hospital for check-up (Straits Times, 10 April 2007)

Malaysia hesitant on Thai south (Radio Australia6 April 2007)

Army recruits in South could be moles for insurgents (Bangkok Post, 9 April 2007)

PM cancels rebel boss bounties (Bangkok Post, 8 April 2007)

Buddhist nationalism and social strife (Bangkok Post, 8 April 2007)

Muslim scholars and leaders don't agree with new bill (Bangkok Post, 8 April 2007)

Officials will soon know top insurgents: Interior Minister (Thai News Agency, 6 April 2007)