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Southern Muslims not convinced of Thai government’s efforts for reconciliation

Updated On: Nov 27, 2006

Despite announcing that Yawi will become a working language in the South, and amid new concessions being broached by the Thai government, the inhabitants of the deep South remain suspicious of the government’s apparent goodwill.

Already violence is escalating, with insurgents sabotaging public utility systems and the brutal slaying of two teachers in Pattani. As a result, the 336 schools in Pattani are “to be closed indefinitely following increasing attacks on teachers”, the Nation reported. It is said that Yala and Narathiwat provinces are considering a similar move because of safety concerns.

The government has admitted that peace restoration is an uphill battle as the ethnic tensions are slowly being exploited to include the fundamental Islamist agenda. Propaganda leaflets are being spread to diminish the government’s standing and to gain support for the separatist movement, urging the “Malay Muslims in the region not to believe anything the authorities say and slammed the re-establishment of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) and its security wing, the Civilian-Police-Military 43 (CPM 43)”. The Bangkok Post said that the Army has since “hit back on Thursday by distributing leaflets from helicopters that portrayed the government in a positive light”.

How is the government going about restoring peace then? Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas has said the “authorities have limited information about them and know only insurgents at operational levels” and that the “more radical ones rejected [government] dialogue and were holding firm to their militant ideology”. Moreover, Gen. Sonthi has already commanded “an increase in manpower to provide security in the far South, as well as readjustment of security measures to suit each area”.

PM Surayud has also announced a peace offensive in the form of a development programme.

Surayud said to Reuters, “This would include tax cuts to help businesses struggling as a result of the insurgency and efforts to promote industry in the largely agricultural area where rubber and fishing are the backbone of the economy, and to create jobs.” Thereafter, he would “assess the situation again in three to six months.”

Already, Minister of Labour Apai Chanthanajulaka has “called a meeting of senior officials in the central region today to map out plans for 2007 including a new strategic goal creating more than 2,000 jobs in the three southern border provinces of insurgency-plagued far South”, the Bangkok Post reported. These plans will “comprise four strategic plans and one project with the total budget of 25 billion baht, the main objectives being job opportunity provision and developing skilled labourers”. However, while locals “welcomed the ad-hoc special development zone proposed by the government”, they noted that it would not provide broad-based benefit to all as particular sectors would gain more while neglecting areas which were most affected by the violence.

Whatever it is, the government seems confident in its conflict resolution skills. Gen. Saprang Kalayanamitr, an important figure in the Council for National Security (CNS), has expressed optimism in the new government’s policies (during an exclusive interview with the Nation), as opposed to the old regime whose “misguided policy opened up opportunities for insurgents to build and widen their local support”.

But having said that, it was also announced that martial law in Thailand would continue in the restive Thai south, and also four of the Northeast Thai provinces.  The latter were seen as stronghold of ousted premier Thaksin and the military-appointed government justified these moves on assertions that groups of people were “still active in politics and kept close contacts with the ousted premier”.  And this in the midst of Thaksin’s political adviser’s announcement that Thaksin “is finished with politics”.

Sources:

Extremists kill, wound six in South (Bangkok Post, 26 November 2006)

Pattani schools to close after slaying (Bangkok Post, 26 November 2006)

Teachers shut all Pattani schools (Nation, 26 November 2006)

Down but by no means out in South (Nation, 26 November 2006)

General Saprang confident new strategies will turn things round (Bangkok Post, 26 November 2006)

More forces sent to South (Bangkok Post, 25 November 2006)

Zoning idea gets a wary thumbs-up (Nation, 25 November 2006)

Hardcore militants still bent on violence (Bangkok Post, 25 November 2006)

Southern Buddhists pray for peace (Bangkok Post, 25 November 2006)

Jobs plan discussed for deep South (Bangkok Post, 25 November 2006)         

Army, insurgents in a battle for minds (Nation, 25 November 2006)

Thailand promises aid for violent Muslim south (Reuters, 23 November 2006)

Martial law in Thailand to continue in some areas: report (STI, 26 November 2006)

Ousted Thaksin is finished with politics: adviser (STI, 26 November 2006)