Too late, too little – what will become of the South?

Updated On: Feb 23, 2007

For all the talk about bringing peace to the South, it is obvious to many that perhaps neither the interim government nor the junta is really committed to the cause.

The numerous discussions have been one-sided and without engagement with the separatist groups. In light of the recent violence, it may be too late for regrets even if the authorities decide to act firmly now.

Pent-up frustration and the growing sense that the government disrespects the Southern Muslim community may have contributed to the recent spate of extreme violence. Bangkok is now bracing itself for a wave of attacks, following the bombings over the first days of the Lunar New Year in the South meant to intimidate the Buddhist Chinese businessmen who are major players in the economy of South Thailand. Diplomats and embassies have been warned, and Malaysians have been told to avoid going to the border provinces.

The insurgents are getting bolder in defying all figures of authority, and even daring to carry out attacks on those who are connected to the royals. Two weeks ago, a bomb went off only 100 metres away from where Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, second daughter of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, would land by helicopter in Pattani. Just this Wednesday (21 Feb 07), the convoy of Thanpuying Viriya Chawakul, an aide of the Queen, was shot at by insurgents in Yala. She escaped unhurt but a police officer was injured, the Bangkok Post reported.

By far the most damaging would be the arson attack on “the largest rubber warehouse in Yala province owned by the Southern Land Rubber Co. (a joint venture between Thai and Malaysian businessmen)”, the Associated Press noted. This is because “rubber products are the backbone of the predominantly-Muslim region's economy which generate incomes and provide jobs for local residents”. Initial estimates of the damage is put at Bt 400 million (10.28m USD), together with the loss of “5,000 tonnes of rubber sheet intended for export”. The Bangkok Post reported that Labour Minister Apai Chandanachulaka and Governor Theera Mintrasak have since “pledged to find temporary jobs for the [400-odd] affected workers”.

Many, including the Bangkok Post, have scoffed the junta's “empty talk” of peaceful overtures in national reconciliation. Not only is Thailand rent apart in its quest for democracy and a new constitution, and factions that are for and against Thaksin still flourish.  Reuters reported analysts and officials saying that the junta is revealing its true intent of retaining power in Bangkok that “it is neglecting the Muslim far south”.  An anonymous Bangkok-based security consultant said, “Their minds are elsewhere, playing at politics in the capital, so there's much less emphasis on the south. He added that “the coup's top brass are so paranoid about a lingering threat from ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra they have moved radio- and phone-tapping kit from the south to Bangkok”, thus wasting precious time, energy and resources. The Nation has also exhorted that Thaksin be “moved down the priority list”.

With one Malaysian victim of the bombings and given that forensic experts have announced the explosives were sourced from Malaysia, the stakes for bilateral cooperation are higher. Agence-France Presse stated that this discovery may hasten Bangkok's decision to work with Malaysia. Presently, Malaysia is keen to help but Thailand is dithering.

In the wake of the rubber warehouse burning, Malaysia DPM Najib Razak told the media that due to sovereignty issues, the ball is really in the Thai court. The Bernama and New Straits Times quoted him as saying, “At the moment, we are still open in assisting (Thailand) to defuse tension and finding solutions to overcome conflicts there… It has to be initiated by Thailand. We cannot simply do (anything) as it involves the sovereignty of a neighbouring country… "And if there is a question of safety of Malaysian firms, then it is incumbent for both countries to safeguard the security of foreign investors as much as it is our responsibility to safeguard the security of those investing in our country.”

It remains to be seen if the Thai authorities will overcome their “Thaksin paranoia” and act firmly to prevent civil strife from breaking out all over the South. When that happens, it would be too late to want to negotiate with the insurgents who have many reasons to distrust Bangkok's frequent promises. (22 February 2007)


Malaysian link to Thai bombings (ABC Radio Australia, 22 February 2007)

Thais must decide on form of help (New Straits Times, 22 February 2007)

M'sia Committed To Assisting Thailand Resolve Insurgency, Says Najib (Bernama, 21 February 2007)

Insurgents attack convoy of Queen's aide (Bangkok Post, 22 February 2007)

Interim govt unable to stop southern violence (Bangkok Post, 22 February 2007)

Thai rubber blazes in Southern attack (AP, 22 February 2007)

Queen's aide unhurt in Yala ambush (Bangkok Post, 22 February 2007)

General fears attacks in Bangkok (Bangkok Post, 4 February 2007)

Bangkok embassy security increased (Bangkok Post, 4 February 2007)

Diplomats get police brief on terror threat (Nation, 4 February 2007)

Malaysians advised to avoid Southern Thailand (Nation, 4 February 2007)

It's time to move Thaksin down the priority list (Nation, 21 February 2007)

Thai Army paranoia gives Muslim militants room (Reuters, 20 February 2007)