Bangkok – Those who have been following the Thai media coverage of violence in the deep South in recent months are likely to draw two conclusions: That the three provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani have been turned into war zones and that the Thai Muslims there are supportive of separatism. Such a portrayal of the deep South is far from the truth, says the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC).
To offer a more accurate picture of the situation, Thai journalists should listen to the local people more, the NRC said during a meeting with a group of print media editors on Aug 8.
According to the NRC:
- The mainstream media's focus solely on violence and the information fed by state authorities have led the public to believe that all the killings and violence are done by separatists. The truth is the police could not even identify or arrest the culprits in 85 per cent of the killings.
- The press should stop using terms such as self-rule, autonomy or special administrative zone when describing "solutions" to the Southern problems since they mislead the Buddhist-majority population to believe that all the local people support separatism. This is not true, said NRC chairman and former premier Anand Panyarachun.
Instead, "power-sharing in accordance with the constitution" is the phrase that is closer to the truth, he added.
- According to official statistics, 730 people have died during the past two years in the South. "My guess is that more than half (of these deaths) do not involve Southern violence,'' Mr Anand said.
One truth that the NRC found is that the state's top-down, centralised administration system has destroyed the traditional moral leadership system in the Muslim communities and created a new breed of local leaders who no longer represent the people but rival interest groups engaged in shady businesses, which contribute significantly to the current violence.
Muslims in the deep South also told the commission that they strongly resent the government's disrespect of their religious schools, which form the core of their community life and cultural identity, by treating these schools as breeding grounds of terrorism.
"But the majority of the people are not supporters of separatists," Mr Anand said. "If they are not cooperating with the government it's because they are in deep fear. They're afraid that the government cannot guarantee them safety. They're also afraid that they won't get legal justice.''
Mr Anand stressed that separatist groups do exist in the South. "I never deny that there are separatist movements. I never deny that violence exists. But they are all end-products. We must work so the majority Muslims are not under the spell of instigators while we must foster (the spirit of) harmony in the mainstream society.''
* What's lacking in the news? Truth (Bangkok Post, Aug 10)