Just this week, Thai Interior Minister Aree Wongaraya told the media that he did not “believe that the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist group [would] create violent situations on March 13th, the day which marks the birth of the foundation”, ThaisNews reported.
Nonetheless, the Thai security forces did not take any chances, putting in place a security alert for Bangkok and the South today.
Just as Thailand heaved a sigh of relief after the Muslim-Buddhist stand-off outside a Pattani police station finally ended calmly on Sunday after intervention from an Islamic leader, the kingdom now reels from the cruel hijack of a shuttle bus in Yala on Wednesday morning and the cold-blooded shooting of its nine Buddhists passengers. The driver who had pleaded Allah for help was recognized to be Muslim and thus released by the insurgents, the Nation noted.
A Muslim himself, Aree has expressed strong condemnation, saying, “I don't understand why they do this… Shooting innocent people... it's a random act. It's an act that no ordinary person would do.” Yet in the same breath, Aree denied that these actions are in imitation of international terrorist organizations. Openly defensive, he insisted Thailand did not “have the same problems as other countries facing terrorism”. He also declared that this “was not connected with the anniversary of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Pattani (BRN) separatist movement or other southern groups”.
Additionally, in response to Chuan Leekpai's comment that a new minister should take over the Southern security, Aree's retort reeked of state denial. He stressed that the present government was already doing its best and Chuan should submit his proposal to the next government.
Whatever it is, Thailand is not doing very well on all fronts. Not only is security compromised but its fiscal health is in danger. The baht reached its highest point today in nine years “since shortly after the 1997 collapse of the currency”, yielding only THB34.93 per US dollar. This will greatly affect export competitiveness.
Already, Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) chairman Santi Vilassakdanont has urged the Finance Ministry to meet with the Bank of Thailand “to discuss measures to stem speculation in the baht and ease the currency's volatility”, the Thai News Agency reported. The government is also acting to boost the economy through “interest rate cuts and accelerated budget spending to assist low-income earners and small businesses”, Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand told the media. He said that “slashing interest rates would not only help boost economic growth, but would also weaken the baht, thus helping the country's exports”.
While the government hopes to restore confidence through these measures, it is uncertain how many will be convinced. After all, the Thai government has been on a public relations blitz to “advertise” its good work for several months on end.
Their efforts look to be wasted as the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) survey “showed that on a scale of 1-to-10, Thai corruption last year was 7.64, and has sunk to its current status of 8.03”. Now Thailand shares the dubious honour with Indonesia and together they are ranked as “Asia's second most corrupt nations”. Only the Philippines fares worse than Thailand. This must be a big blow to the junta and Surayud government who have been scrambling to pin down cases of corruption former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was allegedly involved in. PERC said that although the junta pledged anti-graft measures, “there is no reason to be confident that its behaviour will be any cleaner”. (15 March 2007)
Interest rates likely to be slashed (Bangkok Post, 14 March 2007)
The blunder of BoT's exchange rate policy (Bangkok Post, 14 March 2007)
City, deep South on security alert today (Bangkok Post, 14 March 2007)
Militants free driver who asks protection from Allah (Nation, 14 March 2007)
Aree condemns 'inhumane' ambush (Bangkok Post, 14 March 2007)
Govt hopes to restore confidence (Bangkok Post, 14 March 2007)
Interior Minister confident violence will not erupt on March 13 (ThaisNews, 11 March 2007)
Finance Ministry urged to meet with central bank on baht volatility (TNA, 13 March 2007)
Thai corruption 'worse since coup' (Bangkok Post, 13 March 2007)
Muslim protestors end confrontation with Buddhists in southern Thailand (Xinhua, 11 March 2007)
Muslim protesters clash with Buddhists (Nation, 11 March 2007)