Recent violence has made the issue of the restive Thai south prominent again.
Two elderly men and 2 others were killed in separate attacks by Islamic militants. The authorities also found the burnt and badly-beaten body of a 74-year-old man in Panare district. Three others were shot random in Yala province. Religious hate was behind the killing of two Buddhist rubber plantation farmers in drive-by shootings as they just made their way for work. Meanwhile, a 22-year-old man has surrendered to the authorities for the October 2005 murder of a Buddhist monk and two temple assistants in Pattani.
Opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has come up to speak against the situation in Southern Thailand asking for caution over the alleged improvement of the situation there. He felt that strong military response only has temporary effects in discouraging violence. About 190 suspects are imprisoned for violence. He was worried about the possibility of the innocent being incarcerated.
Besides his handling of the violence in South Thailand, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was also blamed for reacting too slowly to the flood situation in the south. Apparently he went to the South for a half day tour after the worst was over. Instead, the mantle of the hero of the day went to the military which sent some 30,000 troops to help out in flood management efforts in the region. The Army chief expressed his concern that bureaucrats from Bangkok were not helping much in not understanding local conditions.
Several quarters have made efforts to initiate peace overtures. One was a visit by the Crown Prince in Yala. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and HRH Princess Srirasmi visit Yala on 12 Jan 2006 to provide aid to victims of the recent floods in Muang and Bannang Sata districts. Yala faced the worst of the floods amongst the eight Southern Thai provinces when a monsoon storm traveled from the northeast across the Gulf of Thailand and into the South on Dec 14 2006. So far, 27 people have died while 454,868 homes have sustained damages. 4,355 roads and 380 bridges were inundated and, more importantly 718,027 rai of agricultural lands, have been flooded. The overall damage assessment is placed at 756 million baht for the period Dec 14-Jan 11 alone. Some Southern Thai areas like Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phatthalung are still flooded
Besides royal patronage, in a rare show of unity, the Thai army head and Muslim religious leaders appealed to Thai Muslims to take the occasion of Hari Raya Aidil Adha to put an end to the senseless violence that has plagued Thailand’s south. Army chief Gen Sonthi Bunyaratglin who is a Muslim argued that the military means to stop the violence should cease during the holy festival and that he was ready to work with local grassroots leaders to work truly for peace in Southern Thailand.
Muslim leaders like Masran Mahama, vice-rector of the Yala Islamic college, urged Muslims to stop the killing and strive for unity, peace and reconciliation regardless of faith. To buttress this latest call for peace efforts, the Thai National Reconciliation Commission chairman Anand Panyarachun will hold meetings with local residents in Narathiwat on Feb 18-20 2006 for assessment of situation in the south before reporting to the national parliament. Recommendations will be made short of autonomous self-rule or separatist sentiments.
Before the report is out, Thailand has also made formal representations to its nearest neighbor to deter terrorism through handphone-triggered bombings in the South using machines registered in Malaysia. Such attacks had hurt Malaysians as well as Thais, wounding two Thais and a Malaysian s far.
The issue is taken up by Information and Communications Technology Minister Sora-at Klinpratoom who will be discussing it with his Malaysian counterpart before the two regulatory bodies of telecommunications meet in Bangkok. Bangkok has classified it as an urgent matter. Bangkok had previously succeeded in stopping such attacks when it switched off unregistered pre-paid mobile phones in November 2005 but the registration of Malaysian cellphones brought into Thailand has revived this form of terrorism. Malaysia and Thailand need to talk fast about cross-border terrorism as it did not help that militants had recently raided a weapons depot in Narathiwat province which borders Malaysia.
* Sonthi urges holy day truce (Antara, Jan 11)
* Doubts over 'improved' security in Thai south (Straits Times, Jan 9)
* Crown Prince heads for Yala (Bangkok Post, Jan 12)
* Bangkok to ask KL to help curb cellphone bombings (Straits Times Jan 10)