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Will Surayud be successful in tackling the Southern unrest?

Updated On: Nov 10, 2006

It is widely known that restoring peace in the South is one of the topmost priorities of PM Surayud’s term.

To his credit, he has taken a proactive stance to resolving the Southern crisis. Not only has be made a heartfelt apology for the human rights abuses committed by the previous administration, he has also made two trips to the region to meet the people, the most recent being the one on Wednesday this week.

In a move that was widely lauded for its justice and respect of the community, Surayud announced to “a gathering of about 3,000 religious teachers and students in Yala” that “the black list of suspected militants” would be cancelled, the Bernama reported. He also assured the people that the interim government would “review all cases and ensure fairness to the people in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, majority of them Muslims”. In the hope of restoring justice and friendly relations, the “Thai government has also agreed to pay compensation amounting to 42 million baht to family members of 75 Thai Muslims who died in the custody of authorities in the Tak Bai tragedy two years ago”.

Perhaps the most significant of reconciliatory efforts Surayud has declared was during a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on Tuesday. He implied that as the Southern Muslims have “different values from Buddhist Thais”, “they should have the Islamic law in practice – the Shariah”. This was because it would be easier to live within one’s cultural, social and religious tenets.

Nonetheless, Surayud remained firm that independence was out of the question for the provinces and that self-governmental methods like those of Aceh would definitely be preferred. Although the insurgent groups have contacted the authorities on Wednesday, the Bangkok Post reported coup-maker Gen. Sonthi as saying, “There have been no demands by the insurgents for separation.” It is unclear what the insurgents want.

A Baan Muang Editorial has stressed that whatever the government does, one of its key tasks would be to contain the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) as it been constantly trying to “foment hatred of the government among the Malay Muslim people in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat”. It notes that PULO “has tried every possible way to prevent the government from carrying out development projects in the region… discouraged the Malay Muslims there from learning and speaking Thai”. In addition, those “in charge of creating reconciliation support the PULO’s persistent claim that police and military personnel are mistreating the local people” such that retaliatory attacks against the government continue unabated.

Moreover, the authorities have to deal with the separatist groups of the 1960s and the “new generation of village-based militants who are organised into a cluster of cells and operate independently with no executive council to direct them”, the Nation said. These two different types of insurgent groups confound the military by using different modus operandi –the former claims responsibility for its attacks while the latter remains shadowy and prefers stealth operations.

This may be why despite the Organisation of the Islamic Conference’s (OIC) praise of Surayud’s efforts and offered the Thai government any assistance it needed to restore peace in the South, the Thai insurgents are not appeased. The Nation commented that “Surayud’s visit came amid a new wave of arson attacks in the three southernmost provinces over the weekend that claimed at least six people’s lives and left four schools torched. Thirty-five schools remain closed across Yala province, and a further 14 were shut after the fresh violence”.

Sources:

No end in sight to violence in south (Nation, 9 November 2006)

For lasting peace, PULO must be tackled at the root (Bangkok Post, 9 November 2006)

Thai PM to Cancel Black List of Suspected Militants (Bernama, 9 November 2006)

Sonthi: Insurgent leaders 'in contact' (Bangkok Post, 9 November 2006)

Premier headed South again (Nation, 8 November 2006)

OIC lauds Surayud's measures to end unrest (Bangkok Post, 8 November 2006)

Islamic group offers to help in South (Bangkok Post, 8 November 2006)

Thai PM says no short-term solution to Muslim insurgency; foreign fighters not involved (AP/IHT, 7 November 2006)

Thai junta may allow Shariah in south (IHT, 7 November 2006)