Bangkok – Drop criminal charges against suspects in the Tak Bai protest. Lift martial law. Offer prompt and adequate compensation to victims of violence. These are among the elements of a formula for permanent peace in the deep South offered by Senator Sophon Supapong, who is a member of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC).
Mr Sophon, who had been working in the troubled South long before the NRC came into being, said the insurgency problem requires a combination of immediate, medium and long-term approaches. The NRC, led by former premier Anand Panyarachun, is tasked with finding a lasting solution to the troubles in the mainly-Muslim southern provinces.
As a start, the government must stop pursuing legal action against the 58 suspects charged with forcefully preventing officials from performing their duties at Tak Bai. Mr Sophon said they were mostly innocent spectators of the riot on Oct 25 last year who were rounded up and labelled as rioters.
Cancelling the charges against the Tak Bai suspects would give peace and reconciliation a chance, Mr Sophon added.
The government should also lift martial law, which has been in force in some separatist hotbeds in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. In certain areas, the law has been in effect for a long time and local people feel that it "has deflated'' their level of humanity, the Senator said.
Martial law is also one reason why Thais in the affected areas view the authorities in a negative light. Regular laws could be invoked in place of martial law which often had been enforced at whim, intensifying the southern security flare-up, he added.
Mr Sophon said getting compensation to families affected by the southern unrest remains a divisive issue, with some accusing the government of double standards.
He cited the case of a woman who was bitter because she did not receive a single baht in compensation after her husband, a police colonel, was killed by the insurgents. On the other hand, the government had offered 300,000 baht to families and relatives of the dead Tak Bai rioters.
* Senator sets out formula for peace (The Bangkok Post, May 2)