Even as the recent spate of bank bombings again raised fears of deterioration in the South, it appears that leaders are trying to forge some progress in national reconciliation between the Southern Muslims and the rest of the country independent of Thaksin’s interference.
Indeed, Thaksin’s government has inevitably come up as the one who has consistently thrown the spanner in the works, shirking responsibility and blaming others for ineffective control.
Most significant of these proposals has been General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin’s suggestion that discussions be held with the insurgents. Thaksin and his cronies have unsurprisingly pooh-poohed the idea. Conversely, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, has lauded this courageous move, saying the use of diplomacy and political means to reach a peaceful settlement would be far better than the forceful measures to-date.
In his commentary in the Bangkok Post, Thitinan explained that Thaksin’s refusal to hold dialogue is because it would be a distinct loss of face, and that “negotiation would be tantamount to his admission of guilt in politicising the southern insurgency and mismanaging it during the current spate of violence since January 2004”.
The Nation agrees that “peaceful settlement should be the goal in the South, but separatist insurgents must first lay down arms”. It even criticized Thaksin’s government as “hypocritical” in rejecting talks as “over the past couple of years Thai officials have… engaged in dialogue with exiled Pattani-Malay separatists [from Bersatu, PULO, and their splinter groups] who have abandoned armed struggle against the Thai state and who are now living in Europe and elsewhere”. It is said that these meetings were “not made public… because the government did not officially sanction them”.
The Nation advocates permitting the “previous generation of separatists to return to Thailand” as they “do not share the same mindset, motivations and tactics of today's militants whose daily assassinations, roadside bombings and other terrorist tactics have driven a large wedge between the average Buddhist and Muslim in the region”. Besides being a significant goodwill gesture, the ex-insurgents would be able to facilitate the reconciliation process.
In another initiative, Lt-General Adul Sangsingkeo, commissioner of the Ninth Police Region, told the Nation that “officials from the military, law enforcement and the legal community have been meeting regularly to discuss how to differentiate insurgents from common criminals”. However, it has been difficult to reach an agreement on what constitutes an “insurgent”. Moreover, the security forces and the legal community are both fighting to have the “power to determine who is a common criminal and who is an insurgent”.
Meanwhile, the business community is trying to jumpstart the Southern economy. The Thai News Agency reported that the “Joint Private-Sector Committee [comprising members of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) and Thai Bankers' Association] is set to gather information given by entrepreneurs and business persons in Thailand's three southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat and propose it to the government so that authorities concerned could use it for making appropriate decisions and coming up with further measures to stimulate the economy in the region”.
Santi Vilassakdanont, Chairman of the FTI, said, “Investment has dropped by around 20% since the violence broke out in early 2004… The private sector… wants the government to come up with more measures to stimulate investment and spending in the region through specific economic zones in the three southern border provinces”. These should include measures such as special interest rates to boost liquidity and investment for entrepreneurs in the region. These measures must be made so as to avoid affecting the investment growth in the Southern economic centre of Songkhla, Santi warned.
The above proposals are salient as far as reconciling the South goes. However analysts think Thaksin will probably veto all these ideas. Thaksin’s critics believe what Thailand needs is for Thaksin to go away and stay out of politics such that the not only the South can heal, but the entire kingdom as well.
Thailand tightens up security in South (Bangkok Post, 6 September 2006)
Government urged to implement more economic stimulus in deep South (Thai News Agency, 4 September 2006)
C-in-C's olive branch anathema to CEO (Bangkok Post, 6 September 2006)
Govt. to increase power of army chief in handling southern operations (The Nation, 7 September 2006)
Leave the door open for talks (The Nation, 7 September 2006)
South an elusive 'spider's web' for generals (The Nation, 6 September 2006)
Sonthi makes a needed overture in the South (The Nation, 5 September 2006)