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Can Sonthi and the OIC facilitate peace in the Thai South?

Updated On: Jun 23, 2006

As the violence escalates in the South, Bangkok tries to resolve the issue first by putting General Sonthi Boonyaratglin fully in charge of the area, and now it seeks the Organisation of Islamic Conference to help search for a solution. It is uncertain that these two tactics would alleviate the tensions.

As it stands, Sonthi plans to deploy “five fresh battalions to deal with the troubles in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat”. The fact that Sonthi is a Muslim is barely relief for the southerners. Abdullahman Abdulsomat, chairman of the coordination committee of Islamic committees in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, told the Bangkok Post, “He is a Muslim. He is the soldier who understands the problems and has been working in the South for a long time… [However] forceful suppression alone will not succeed but will lead to increasing violence.” Voravit Baru, deputy rector of Prince of Songkla University's Pattani campus, warned, “Local Muslim residents do not want to stay close to soldiers. Only Buddhist Thais who want protection do. To prevent hard feelings, soldiers must be carefully deployed.”

It has been said that by outgoing senator Sophon Suphapong that Sonthi is merely Thaksin’s scapegoat as Sonthi has been trying to tackle southern problems but it has always been Thaksin who shirked responsibility. He added that if there continued “the failed political mentality, wrong policies and abuse of authority”, the army would be helpless in improving the situation.

Bangkok’s intransigent position does not bode well for all the talk for a change in attitude in dealing with the South. It now seeks the OIC’s support in tackling the insurgency but continues to insist that the conflict in the South remain categorized as domestic, not religious matter.

Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon announced that the “OIC has noted that the situation in southern Thailand is not one of religious conflict… The OIC must not condone those who resort to the use of religion as a pretext for carrying out indiscriminate violence against innocent people. We must support harmony among diversity.” He added, “We must speak with one voice. We must speak against the perpetrators of violence so that peace and harmony that the people in southern Thailand have long cherished can prevail for the benefit of all.”

The OIC has its own stand on the issue, while remaining “full of understanding” for Thailand. It has “urged Thailand to reach a peaceful solution to the problem, achieve security, peace and stability, and meet the legitimate aspirations of the people of the southernmost provinces”.

Sources:

OIC to help in search for a solution (Bangkok Post, 22 June 2006)

Ties with OIC close and 'full of understanding' (The Nation, 22 June 2006)

South wary of Sonthi in full control (Bangkok Post, 21 June 2006)

Thailand seeks OIC support in far South (Bangkok Post, 21 June 2006)

Army chief 'welcome in restive South' (The Nation, 21 June 2006)