The violence in the South was perhaps remote for the millions who witnessed the grand celebrations to mark King Bhumipol’s 60 years on the throne.
However, just a day or two after the grand celebrations, over 40 bombs went off in the South in what looked like a coordinated move. This would hopefully bring the focus back to the situation in the south, and debates on what need to be done.
The National Reconciliation Commission’s (NRC) report on the causes and possible solutions brought fresh hope of ending the violence. Unfortunately, the current political deadlock of Thailand may mean that the NRC’s recommendations will be hamstrung.
The Bangkok Post described the NRC's as “a significant intervention into the policy agenda in Thailand”. This proposal “envisages some major changes that harken back to the political reform agenda of the 1990s that focus on participatory democracy, accountability and human rights”.The NRC, led by widely-respected former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, has observed that poverty, abuse of power, flawed judicial processes that exacerbate the situation in South also exist in other regions. The reason, therefore, for the fighting “between the state and unknown separatist militants is that these problems play out in a context marked by religious, language and cultural difference. These provide all the necessary ingredients for a further deterioration if grievances are not addressed”, the Bangkok Post reported. The NRC believes that the current administration of the South does not cater to the people’s needs.It was further enunciated that the key recommendation of the NRC is the potential passing of a Reconciliation Act to bring about three new bodies. These are “the Border Provinces Area Development Council; the Peaceful Strategic Administrative Centre for Southern Border Provinces; and a permanent fund to support reconciliation work”. In another separate report by Srisompob Jitpiromsri, political scientist at Prince of Songkhla University, a survey of 1,200 residents of the region showed that 41.8 per cent of those polled wanted a special administrative body, while another 41.4 per cent did not want a new body, preferring the development of local administration better suited to the locals. This survey was excluded from the NRC’s report as those involved did not want to be seen as recommending “autonomy” –a “forbidden” term regarding the South.
In addition, a National Research Council-funded project is being conducted to seek possible solutions for the South. Associate Professor Mark Tamthai feels that being “autonomous” is not such a bad thing. He cites Spain as being a good example where autonomous communities co-exist with the constitutional monarchy. However, no concrete solutions are outlined as yet.
Dealing with a similar situation in the Philippines, Professor Rudy Rodil of Mindanao State University said, “We have studied other experiences and they don't fit our peculiar situation. We realised that we have to listen, not just to their words but to the emotions.” Solutions had to be custom-fitted to their peculiar exigencies. The Bangkok Post left a parting shot to Prof. Tamthai –How can multi-ethnic needs be catered for without incurring the 600,000 or so deaths like in Spain? How can the political will be garnered to initiate such a solution?
In the meantime, Thai Army commander Sonthi Boonyaratglin will visit Malaysia next week. Gen. Sonthi, who had initially wanted to see the 130 Muslim-Thais who fled to Malaysia last August will now not meet them. Instead, he will meet Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi next week to “discuss measures to help end the violence in the Deep South”, the Bangkok Post reported.
Admin body urged for South (The Nation, 15 June 2006)
Sonthi to meet with Abdullah (Bangkok Post, 14 June 2006)
In search of multi-ethnic democracy (Bangkok Post, 14 June 2006)
Addressing the southern conflagration (Bangkok Post, 13 June 2006)