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A price on Surayud’s head as hopes for peace fade in the South

Updated On: Dec 01, 2006

The Thai government has been vigorously promoting peace strategies in a bid to reconcile the Thai Buddhists and Southern Muslims through peace and development –the latest being a 3-month time-limit for Southern security agencies to shape up before a strict evaluation of their efficacy.

However, the Southern civilians are not convinced. The insurgents even more so –they have placed a “seven million-baht bounty” on PM Surayud and CNS chairman Gen. Sonthi.  Surayud has responded nonchalantly that “as a soldier, [he is] willing to die for the nation”.  Defence Minister Boonrawd also blamed the continued violence on those who “do not want to negotiate”.

While that may be so, the civilian population in the South is tired of the unrest and violence. The Nation reported that “government officials have failed to persuade 227 Buddhists who sought refuge in Yala's Wat Nirot Sangkharam temple to return home – despite a guarantee of safety”. The abbot Prakhru Kem Wongsanukarn doubted the truth of the officials’ message, saying, “I would like to urge the superiors of these officials to stop doing so unless the government has proper measures to provide safety for the villagers… If the situation is not improved the temple would continue sheltering the villagers.”

Jaran Kriangsriprom, a villager who had sought refuge, insisted, “They lied as they told us our villages are safe, but a few of us returned to inspect the area and soldiers there admitted it was not safe at all… Officials don't care about the well-being of Buddhist villagers, they only care about their image and don't want to see internal migration.” Such uncoordinated governmental effort to procure peace and safety is not winning Surayud any supporters even among the Buddhist population.

Even as schools begin to reopen in the towns and cities of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, the other schools remain closed, causing distress among parents and school children due to the disruption in education. The teachers' confederation in the five southern border provinces has planned to meet with the government this Saturday “to consider the future of schools in the South, and to present ideas and demands to the government about the violence in the region”, adding that “the government failed to respond to recommendations they previously submitted”, the Bangkok Post reported. Today (Thursday), the confederation and Gen. Sonthi will hold a meeting on the same issue.

In his recent visit to Malaysia, Gen. Sonthi was pleased with the warming of bilateral ties, saying that both sides avoided broaching the sensitive issue of the killing of former insurgent suspects extradited from Malaysia by security forces under the Thaksin administration, or the funding of militant activities by “tom yum kung” operating in Malaysia.

In response, the New Straits Times reported Malaysia as praising the partial lifting of martial law in Thailand and declared that it will “not pressure military-controlledThailand into adopting democracy, although it hopes the nation will eventually do so”. Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar supported Thai moves for national reconciliation with the South, stressing that the Thai government’s efforts were sincere. In respect of Thai sovereignty, Malaysia would never support any separatist movement wanting to break away from Thailand.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet’s decision to lift martial law in 41 provinces, including Bangkok and its surrounding areas, has garnered mixed reactions. Chiang Mai –a stronghold for Thaksin supporters –has unsurprisingly not been “freed” on grounds that it was “was a transit point for drugs”. Former Chiang Mai MP Pornchai Atthapreeyangkul protested the continuation of martial law as “Chiang Mai is in its tourist high season and martial law undermines visitors' confidence”, the Nation said. Other people have felt that the lifting of martial law was “discriminatory”.

Sources:

Schools begin to reopen in South (Bangkok Post, 30 November 2006)

Southern teachers to discuss unrest (Bangkok Post, 30 November 2006)

South agencies face full evaluation (Bangkok Post, 30 November 2006)

Army chief, teachers to meet (Bangkok Post, 30 November 2006)

Talks follow closure of 944 schools in South (Bangkok Post, 30 November 2006)

Surayud 'willing to die' for Thailand (Bangkok Post, 29 November 2006)

Villagers say they'll stay (Nation, 30 November 2006)

Lifting of martial law dubbed 'discriminatory' (Nation, 30 November 2006)

Government lifts martial law in capital, 40 provinces (Bangkok Post, 30 November 2006)

Sonthi heads to Malaysia for talks (Bangkok Post, 28 November 2006)

Mahathir's son calls for reconciliation (Nation, 28 November 2006)

Malaysia pledges not to pressure Thai junta on democracy (Nation, 28 November 2006)

Malaysia welcomes Thailand's partial lifting of martial law (Nation, 28 November 2006)

At the Dewan Rakyat yesterday: No pressure on Thailand to return to democracy (New Straits Times, 28 November 2006)

Sonthi discussing insurgency in Malaysia (Bangkok Post, 28 November 2006)

UPDATE: Thaksin govt executed suspects extradited by Malaysia: Sonthi (Bangkok Post, 28 November 2006)

Former govt kill insurgents handed over by M'sia : Sonthi (Nation, 28 November 2006)

Peace hopes fade in violence-hit Thai South (The Straits Times, 30 November 2006)