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No end to Thailand’s deep South crisis

Updated On: Jun 13, 2006

For the past two years, the Thai South seems to be caught in intractable violence where villagers live in constant fear.

The conflict there which has left over 1000 dead, and created some 6000 orphans fortunately has not passed the point of no return according to Professor Chaiwat Satha-anand of Thammasat University, a technical director of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC).

The NRC has recently put forward a proposal to set up a Southern Border Provinces Area Development Council for increased local government, without going so far as to recommend autonomy.

NRC commissioner Prawase Wasi said, “Using the word autonomy will create more disputes… But the idea of having the council is for the community to look after their own needs, manage the public areas and their own natural resources.” Other recommendations include the establishment of “an unarmed peacekeeping force, a new command centre, the introduction of Islamic law and of ethnic Pattani-Malay as a working language in the region”, the Bangkok Post reported.

Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin has seconded the proposal of the unarmed peace-keeping force together with a dialogue-based approach, believing that this would help dissipate the violence which grown unabated. He told the media that “the improvement of local security hinged on the ability of the authorities to forge community relations and win over the hearts and minds of residents”, the Bangkok Post reported.

In addition, the NRC Chair, Anand Panyarachun, has stressed that “the failure of the authorities to address the unique characteristics of the people in the region, along with the implementation of misguided policies, [has] exacerbated the problems”.

This is also the view of most Southerners. A Yala village headman said that Bangkok did not understand the South and only by paying attention to the NRC could the situation be eased. For the moment, the emergency decree has continually been renewed to suppress the regional violence, to little effect.

With many living in fear of their lives, Muslim leaders and academics have urged the government to clarify its position on the NRC proposals, insisting that delays could no longer be entertained as human lives were in constant peril. Abdulrahman Jehsae, chairman of the Islamic Committee of Yala, was of this view, while Ahmed Somboon Bualauang, a former member of the NRC, called upon the government to employ the NRC’s findings. Professor Worawit Baru of the Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani encouraged the public to “pressure the government to act on the recommendations, which have taken over a year to be compiled by the NRC membership, which represents a broad spectrum of Thai society”, the Nation reported.

Unfortunately, with the current political stalemate and with political observers predicting continued political turmoil after the royal celebrations, it is unlikely that any of the recommendations of the NRC would be seriously put in place as the main political parties focused its attention on fighting for power in the potential October elections.  As the violence continues, and recommendations from the NRC are not taken notice of, the situation in South Thailand might well further deteriorated to become a “failed state”.

Sources:

Growing up in terror in the Thai South (Straits Times, 12 June 2006)

Expedite NRC proposal (Bangkok Post, 11 June 2006)

Govt. told to clarify stand on peace panel's proposals for restive South (Bangkok Post, 11 June 2006)          

NRC hands in plans for Deep South (Bangkok Post, 11 June 2006)

Government servant killed in Thai South (Xinhua, 11 June 2006) 

Thai crisis expected to worsen after royal jubilee (The Star, 11 June 2006)

Spirit of celebration (The Nation, 11 June 2006)

Muslim leaders call for action (The Nation, 11 June 2006)

Army chief backs NRC's plans (Bangkok Post, 9 June 2006)    

EC will go on trial in Criminal Court (Bangkok Post, 9 June 2006)