EFFORTS TO END THE VIOLENCE IN THE MUSLIM SOUTH: CARROTS, STICKS, LOCAL MILITIAS, HARSH SECURITY LAWS

EFFORTS TO END THE VIOLENCE IN THE MUSLIM SOUTH

On what he felt need to be done to imrpove the situation in the Muslim south, Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation, “Eliminating ongoing grievances, expanding space for Malay cultural identity, improving quality of education and increasing employment, increasing local ownership and engaging community-based and civil society organisations as well as increasing diplomatic support, are key elements to end the violence and bring about the much needed national reconciliation in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala.” The government “needs to engage strong-minded bureaucrats and security forces, reminding them without respect for local cultural identity, the trouble in the South will not end. For instance, the use of the Malay language in all public offices including hospitals, land registration offices in all districts of the three provinces must be implemented speedily.[Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, February 22, 2010]

According to the Thai government: “The attacks on innocent civilians, whether they are Muslim, Buddhist, or of any other faith, are equally abhorrent and affect the lives of everyone in the region. Security personnel have been deployed to protect the lives and livelihoods of local people. All violent incidents are investigated and prosecuted in the courts in accordance with criminal law. Telephone hotlines and centers to receive complaints have been set up at the district level. Throughout the military chain of command, strict orders have been issued at all levels to uphold the law and treat civilians, whether they are suspected perpetrators of violence or not, with dignity and justice. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

The Royal Thai Government treats any allegations of wrongdoing or abuses by security personnel with the seriousness it deserves, and all reports are investigated without exception in accordance with the rule of law and judicial process. The procedure may take time, but the judicial process must be allowed to take its course. Apart from ensuring justice, the Thai government now focuses on a development-led approach in eradicating poverty, improving education, and providing greater opportunities for local people. It also considers the resolving of the southern situation one of the country’s national priorities. While officials will not create any conditions that might be used by perpetrators as a pretext to initiate acts of violence, any misunderstandings about the southern situation must be cleared up both domestically and internationally.

In 2010, a $220 million, three-year development package was approved by the "mini-cabinet for the South." On how that money should be spent Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote: “There is an urgent need to allocate these funds to community-based and civil society organisations with a bottom up approach. Past practices of providing funds directly to various ministries, which often led to corruption, are no longer working. Other stakeholders must take part in community decision making. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, February 22, 2010]

Thai Government Response to the Troubles in the Muslim South

More than 30,000 troops and police have been placed on Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat Provinces. There have been supported by thousands of security volunteers, some of them vigilantes and even death squad members who carry retaliatory attacks against Muslim s when Buddhists are attacked. Curfews and travel restrictions have been imposed. In some places cell phone signals have been cut off to prevent the triggering of explosives by mobile phones.

Parts of the Muslim south resembled war-time Iraq. Troops sit behind sandbags and machine at major intersections, At checkpoints vehicles and passengers are rigorously searched Checkpoints have been set up on the Thai-Malaysia border. Border patrols monitor the area. People and vehicles entering Thailand are rigorously searched. Known militants have a 500,000 baht ($12,700) price on their head.

Few militants have been caught or charged or imprisoned, Suspects have been rounded up. Some were have been bombmakers; other suspected insurgents. Many were reportedly innocent. The government has had little success stemming the violence and doesn’t even know much about the enemy they are fighting, Srisompob Jitpiromsri of Prince of Songkla University told the Los Angeles Times, “The nation’s best military intelligence concedes were are waging a war on ghosts. We don’t have a clue as to who their leaders are or what they want.”

In 2007, AFP reported: “The military has also requested massive spending increases to buy new weaponry, including a dozen fighter jets already ordered from Sweden, saying it needs the hardware to battle the insurgency. But near-daily shootings, bombings and ambushes continue to hit southern Thailand despite the military crackdown, arrests and a raft of peace initiatives by the army-backed government. The government also relies heavily on paramilitary forces.... Many villages have lost any faith that the government can protect them and have begun to organise their own sectarian vigilante forces. Rights groups and analysts have voiced alarm at the trend, saying such forces only increase tensions among communities and hamper efforts to make security forces more accountable. [Source: AFP, November 28, 2007]

Winning Hearts and Minds in the Muslim South

Even before the violence in southern Thailand escalated to a crisis level in 2004 the government has used carrot and stick approach in the region: providing money for infrastructure projects and allowing some linguistic and religious liberties in an effort to win hearts and minds while cracking down on any hint of Muslim extremism or separatism.

In December of 2004, in an unusual peace gesture to quell hostilities in the Muslim South, Thaksin ordered 50 Thai air force planes to drop 100 million paper cranes on the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani on the king of Thailand's birthday. The cranes were folded, origami-style, by troops, students, and volunteers from all over Thailand . Even Thaksin and his cabinet folded some. Paper cranes are symbols of peace and hope in Japan. At the same time, however, Thaksin proposed tougher security laws such as the ability to tap phones without warrants and hold suspects without a charge for a week. The New York Times quoted Thaksin as saying, the cranes would "have a psychological effect on moderate people but it will not work with people who are leading the vicious acts."

In June 2004, the Thai government set up panels of villagers and officials to addresses Muslim grievances. It also announced that it was ready to hold peace talks with the leader of Bersatu, an umbrella organization of three Muslim insurgent groups. Thaksin also admitted that his get tough policy was a failure in that it only exacerbated the problem.

In July 2005, the Thai government imposed the 2005 Executive Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations (Emergency Power Law) , an instrument that the government said “would enable state officials to deal with the unrest more effectively and bring perpetrators to justice. The decree lasted for three months, and “could be renewed, if necessary, through Cabinet approval.” See Thaksin Below

In June 2007, the government began raiding villages and making mass arrests, but afterwards courts ordered authorities to free 384 young men who had been held without charge in what the army said was a job training programme. Also in 2007 the Thai government offered amnesty to all southern insurgents except for those who committed criminal acts. There were some who felt too many concessions were given to the Muslims. In the spring of 2007, thousand of monks took the streets demanding that Buddhist be designated by the constitution as the state religion.

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The state has carried out various "hearts and minds" campaigns, interspersed with crackdowns: the fatal shooting of six protesters, the suffocation of 78 detainees in 2004 and a "war on drugs" that saw many extrajudicial killings of young Muslim men. Thai officials have not been charged in any of the incidents. "Police are bad anywhere in Thailand, but when you add a racial-religious element, it's even worse," Davis said. "What better recruiting tool for an up-and-coming Muslim organization?" [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times April 4, 2010]

Thai Government Response to the Muslim Separatist After Thaksin

Many people though the situation would improve after the military coup in 2006. The coup leader, former army chief Boonyaratglin Sondhi was a Muslim. The new Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont apologized for hardline policies of the past soon after taking his post and said he wanted to reach out and talk with the Muslims. He apologized to victims of the violence, and restricted the activities Thai security forces.

There was talk of reconciliation, justice and dialogue. An investigation was launched into the Krue Se mosque attack. Some criticized suggestions of talking with the Muslim insurgents because it wasn’t clear who one would talk to. But in the end the attacks continued as did the government crackdown. Curfews were imposed. The number of troops in the region was increased to 65,000, which allowed the government to set up tougher security grids, and more effectively gather intelligence and restrict the militant’s movement. There was also increased. January 2008, the plug was pulled on a Middle-East-based television station, Al-Mansar, after it was revealed that the station had links to Hezbollah.

Efforts by Abhisit to End the Violence in the Muslim South

In early 2008, the newly elected government of Abhisit Vejjajiva said that it was considering offering some degree of self-rule to the Muslim-majority provinces and tossed around the idea of expanding the application of Muslim law (Sharia) and even making the southern provinces in special administrative zone sort of like Tibet or Xinjiang in China. Many Buddhist Thais opposed these ideas. Some claimed it went against the whole idea of equal rights .

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation, “Since Abhisit Vejjajiva came to power, the government revoked martial law for four districts of Songkhla province and replaced it with the Internal Security Act (ISC). The Emergency Decree in the deep South has been renewed every three-months about a dozen times. With lesser violence, there could be a possibility of replacing the decree with the ISC in the near future. As part of human rights education, the Foreign Ministry has also provided four-training sessions on human rights for security leaders in the South. Those who strictly observe the law would be given a "soldier's proper conduct card." [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, February 22, 2010]

One year after taking power the Abhisit “government has not fulfilled its pledge completely to take up grievances by settling pending cases, such as the killing of Muslim lawyer Somchai Neerapaichit, and the death of Imam Yapa Kaseng under the military's detention, among others. While some progress has been made, it is still small and slow. The prime minister has to take the bull by the horns to ensure that these investigations wrap up and justice is done soon. Efforts to recognise and widen local cultural identity have increased significantly under the current government. But tangible progress is still marginal...Obviously, Abhisit's power has its limits when it comes to implementation on the ground level, especially some of the judicial process, which can have an opposite effect in the South. In fact, it has become a huge impediment to end mutual suspicion and reduce violence. Quite frequently, the long and tedious judicial process has further generated deep resentment among families and friends of jailed suspected insurgents.

Later Abhisit too decided to take the carrot and stick approach Grant Peck of AP wrote: Abhisit “has ruled out granting political autonomy to the region and instead announced in March that 4,000 more security personnel would be deployed, supplementing more than 60,000 forces already there...He also said economic development would be the most effective long-term solution to the area's problems. "We're going to go ahead with a very comprehensive and massive investment project aimed at bringing up the level of income of the people in the area," Abhisit said at a panel discussion Monday in Singapore. He did not say how much authorities would invest. [Source: Grant Peck, AP, June 22, 2009]

In March 2009, the Thai cabinet approved the purchase of blimp to help survey the violence-striken southern Thai provinces. By 2010 less-confrontational army tactics and better intelligence was credited with helping to reduce the number of daily attacks to about half what the were in the mid 2000s.

Shutting Down Islamic Schools

In 2007, The Nation reported: “The order issued by Narathiwat provincial authorities to close down an Islamic school after a group of teachers and students were arrested in connection with insurgent activities, and a cache of weapons was found on school grounds, is the first such closure since violence broke out in the Deep South. The Education Ministry has already revoked the licence of the Islam Burapha private religious school on the grounds that the school was used to indoctrinate students with a perverted brand of Islam that advocates violence and an armed struggle against the state. The shutdown forced the parents of some 600 students at the school to transfer their children elsewhere and some 60 members of the teaching staff to look for new jobs. According to authorities, the order to close down the Islam Burapha school had the consent of the Narathiwat Islamic committee. Prior consultation with the provincial Islamic committee suggests that authorities were aware of the political ramifications and the cultural sensitivity of such a drastic action. [Source: The Nation, July 20, 2007~]

“The Islam Burapha school, like many privately-run Islamic schools that also provide a secular education in the Malay-speaking southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, was heavily subsidised by the Thai government. Private Islamic schools play an important role by serving the dual function of providing Islamic studies and a secular education in Thai that enables local children to appreciate their local culture, without sacrificing the opportunity to get ahead in society. ~

“There have been similar incidents in the past involving individual teachers and students at other Islamic schools in the strife-torn region, but the schools they had been associated with were not shut down. It is important for authorities to be able to demonstrate that the harsh action taken against Islam Burapha school is backed up by hard evidence, and that it is not a form of collective punishment.. The combined military and police forces responsible for the raid on the Islam Burapha school last week, which resulted in the capture of eight suspected insurgents and the seizure of their weapons, insisted that they had acted on tips provided by members of the local community where the school is located. Military commanders and local police officials say that based on the intelligence they have gathered there is a clear pattern of a number of Islamic schools being infiltrated by Islamic militants in order to instil in students a hateful ideology. It glorifies armed struggle against the Thai state in an effort to try to create an independent Islamic homeland in southern Thailand. While the authorities, preferably with the help of local communities, should be on the lookout for Islamic militants/Malay separatists infiltrating Islamic schools, it must be made clear that the great majority of these schools are being run by dedicated, law-abiding administrators. ~

Local Militias in the Muslim South

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “As part of counterinsurgency efforts, the Thai army has ceded more authority to home-defense and paramilitary forces. Many of these troops are poorly trained, critics say, further antagonizing the Malay-speaking Muslim majority in the troubled provinces just north of the border with Malaysia. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times April 4, 2010]

“Local militia member Apiyud Rattanapinyo, 52, shows off his weaponry at his dingy restaurant in Tan Yong Mas, a town ringed by army checkpoints. The Thai Buddhist has two rifles in his truck, a .357 magnum pistol on his belt, four amulets around his neck and half a dozen teeth missing from his smile. "Islamic teachers may say they're not involved, but many are lying," he said. "The militants are afraid of people like me because I shoot at them." ^

“Rattanapinyo, a self-avowed protector of traditional Thai values who said he's been shot at four times and survived a roadside bomb, believes that a solution lies in forcing Islamic schools to teach more Thai language and culture. "This is Thailand," he said. "If they don't mess with my homeland, I won't mess with theirs." Far more hidden are the insurgents and their weapons. An estimated 90 percent of villages in contested zones have secretive attack cells, security experts say. "Hearts and minds, it's crap," said local militia member Rattanapinyo beside his attack dog and home bunker. "We have to get serious. If you don't, they'll think you're soft." ^

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “Adding salt to the wounds, the armed villager groups - such as the Village Safety Protection Unit (chut raksa kham plod phai moo baan), the Safety Protection Volunteers (asa samak raksa kham plod phai) and the Ruam Thai Group - are becoming sources of tension and violence. The government must quickly come up with stringent measures to discipline these unregulated armed villagers. If possible, their numbers must be dramatically cut down as the government is vigorously implementing human security-related policies. Truth be told, these armed men and women lack proper training in the use of firearms which has seriously heightened tension and mutual mistrust among local communities, especially the Muslims and Buddhists. In addition, to increase the confidence of the Muslims down there, the so-called preventive detention must also stop. At least 500-600 suspects are jailed and suffer greatly from such practice. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, February 22, 2010]

Thai Women Battling Insurgency in Southern Thailand

Shino Yuasa of AFP wrote: “A golden Buddha amulet is Nattapat Khongkhoun’s spiritual armour against separatist militants who killed her father and continue to terrorise residents in this southern Thai province.She is one of the 300 female army rangers tasked with quelling an insurgency in the kingdom’s Muslim-majority south. Before joining the army the 28-year-old was a bank clerk, but her life took a dramatic turn when rebels shot dead her father, an army officer, in March 2006 in Pattani, one of three restive provinces bordering Malaysia. [Source: Shino Yuasa, AFP, April 5, 2008**]

“I decided to follow in the footsteps of my father. Solving this crisis was my father’s responsibility, and I wanted to fulfil it,” she said. Wearing the ranger’s all-black T-shirt, trousers and combat boots, Nattapat conceded the job was harder than she had expected. “The situation is getting worse. Militants are using brutal tactics like beheadings and mutilation of corpses to show off and scare villagers,” she said at an army barracks set up in the compound of a Buddhist temple. “It is difficult to capture them because they always mingle with villagers. That’s why cooperation with villagers is very important to tackle the violence,” Nattapat said. **

“The army set up an all-women rangers unit in 2006 to boost cooperation between villagers and the military, recruiting mainly local residents. They are often called upon to break up protests by Muslim women, which authorities believe are staged after attacks to provide cover as militants escape...Nattapat’s fellow ranger, Phadungsri Kenkaow, said she was optimistic about the situation. “Everything will get better. We get better cooperation from villagers,” said Phadungsri, a 26-year-old softly-spoken Buddhist and former nurse.“This is what I always wanted. I want to help my country,” she said. **

“For Preeyaporn Chindamanee, a 27-year-old former beautician, the decision to join the army came as a shock to her parents and friends. “It was difficult for them to understand, but now they all support me,” said Preeyaporn. But the 27-year-old Muslim said her biggest frustration as a ranger was a lack of clear identification of militants. "I don't know who my enemies are," said Arnastashia, a former government official who used to manage poverty reduction programmes in Pattani. "People used to live here peacefully, but militants were trying to create misunderstanding and mistrust between Buddhists and Muslims," said the demure-looking Muslim. Preeyaporn agreed. "Every religion teaches people to be good and kind to each other. Buddhists and Muslims used to be good neighbours. I want to help restore a sense of community between Buddhists and Muslims," she said. **

Thai Security Forces Occupy Schools in the Muslim South

In September 2010, Human Rights Watch reported: “Thai security forces—both the army and the paramilitary Rangers—are putting children’s safety and education at risk by choosing to establish and operate bases within school buildings or on school grounds. This practice should be distinguished from occasions when security forces establish a presence outside of a school for a short period in response to an immediate and compelling security threat to the school. Instead, these military occupations of school grounds last for many months and even years. They are driven by a desire on the part of the security forces to accommodate troops while benefiting from central locations, government land, solid structures, and free electricity and water, as they establish a base in potentially hostile territory. When the security forces set themselves up within schools or on school grounds, students at the schools are forced to carry on their studies alongside armed men. [Source: Human Rights Watch, September 21, 2010==]

“When Human Rights Watch visited Ban Klong Chang village’s government elementary school, where all of the students are Muslim, paramilitary Ranger forces had occupied the school grounds for approximately two years. The Rangers base took up about half of the playing field behind the school. Local residents told Human Rights Watch that Rangers had previously been based outside the village, but that they had moved onto the school grounds after insurgents killed the village head who had previously opposed the Rangers establishing a presence in the village. On school grounds, the soldiers are armed with pistols or military assault rifles. When Human Rights Watch asked Basor Binsakee, a 12-year-old boy, whether or not the soldiers ever carried weapons, he answered promptly that they carried “M-16s [assault rifles]. I could touch them, [but I] was not allowed to carry the weapon.” A local resident also noted: “When the children play with the soldiers, or sit on their laps, they are armed.” ==

“Parents, current students, and former students interviewed by Human Rights Watch raised various concerns about the interaction between the Rangers and the students. Students expressed fears that their proximity to the security forces raised the risk of an attack on the school that could wound them. As one nine-year-old girl at the school told Human Rights Watch: “I am scared.… What scares me is the thought that the school could be attacked because the soldiers are at the school, but that students and teachers would be the ones that get hurt.… The schoolchildren and teachers could get caught in the middle.” Both parents and students shared their concerns that the quality of the teaching at the school had decreased since the arrival of the Rangers. They attributed this to the teachers’ increased anxiety and security concerns. “The teachers are not focusing on the teaching,” one mother of a seven-year-old boy told us. “My daughter has complained that the teachers do not focus on their job,” another parent said. ==

“Students and parents also spoke about their fears that the security forces might sexually harass the girl students and other girls and women in the village. Basor B., a 12-year-old boy, told Human Rights Watch that the only question the soldiers ever asked him was whether he had any older sisters. Hasina S., a 10-year-old girl who goes to the school told Human Rights Watch why she does not talk to the soldiers: I am afraid of [the soldiers], because the soldiers are very touchy. They love to hold the children, and that’s okay for the boys, but for girls, we can’t allow men to touch our body. And I am not happy when the soldiers ask whether I have any older sisters and ask for their phone numbers. Hasina also said that because of her fears, she has wanted for the past year to change to another school, but that she has not done so because her mother wants her to attend school near home. ==

“One mother who removed her daughter from the school said: “It is more dangerous for girls than boys, because girls these days now grow up so quickly. I fear that the girls will get pregnant by the soldiers.” One father of a nine-year-old student at the school said: “If my daughter were much younger, it would not be too bad, but now I am worried. I am not comfortable at all to have my daughter surrounded by men—especially armed men. Because of that, I am very strict with my daughter: she has to keep distance [from the soldiers].” A number of local residents complained that the Rangers brew and drink kratom (an herbal narcotic drink) and worry that this could be a bad influence on the students, and that the children might be tempted to try the drug. One local resident claimed that some grade 6 children at the school had tried kratom after evening soccer matches with the Rangers. ==

“A teacher who lives in the village noted that since the paramilitary forces moved in, children’s games have become more militarized—involving BB guns (a type of air gun) in what she described as “strikingly similar to real scenarios,” with children capturing the BB guns of other children defeated in the games as “legitimate loot,” in the same manner as the insurgents take guns from soldiers they kill. She added that just as the Rangers remain armed while playing evening soccer games with the boys, so too do the boys copy the troop’s behavior by carrying their BB guns while playing soccer. Many of the children who transferred from the school now attend an Islamic private school with a bilingual curriculum in another village. It takes students approximately one extra hour each day to get to and from the new school. ==

“A local teacher said he felt that Ban La Ar School was occupied simply because the village had been designated a “red zone,” a military term to denote areas with high concentrations of insurgents and supporters. The “village had been listed as a ‘deep red’ area, and the army had plans at that time to penetrate and establish a presence in each ‘deep red’ area. It is their counter-terrorism strategy,” said the teacher. None of the three residents who spoke to Human Rights Watch attributed the arrival of the security forces as a direct response to any nearby insurgent attack. ==

Students Leave School Occupied by Thai Security Forces

“When Human Rights Watch visited Pakaluesong School, the concrete walls surrounding it were topped with razor wire, and a sandbagged bunker checkpoint was set up at the school’s main gate. Some 30 Rangers, all men, were based on school grounds, in a camp set up beside the classrooms. Security forces have been at the school since November 2006. At times, soldiers from Taskforce 24th Pattani have also been based on the school grounds. The Rangers roam around the school armed. However, the captain of the forces insisted to Human Rights Watch: “I do not allow any gunshots in our camp because that would scare the children. And since I have been commander here, there has not been a single gunshot in the camp while the children are around.” After the security forces moved in, students began to leave the school. Originally there were more than 220 students at the school, but as of March 2007, only two were still attending. [Source: Human Rights Watch, September 21, 2010==]

“Interviewees gave Human Rights Watch two different reasons for the exodus of students. Parentstold Human Rights Watch that they had withdrawn their children because of their security concerns stemming from the presence of the government forces. One mother of four children told Human Rights Watch she had moved two of them to a government school in another village and sent another two to an Islamic private school “because at this school there are soldiers here, and I don’t want my children to study where there are soldiers. I fear that the presence of the soldiers will bring trouble to the school and … will bring consequences for the children, including violence.” A grandmother with six school-aged children told Human Rights Watch that they had all been moved from the local school to another school, “because my grandchildren were scared of the soldiers.” ==

“Members of the government security forces, however, gave another perspective. They contended that local insurgents had pressured parents to withdraw their children from the school. A local military source told Human Rights Watch that parents said that insurgents had told them not to send their children to this school to protest the military presence on the school grounds, and that parents were afraid to endanger their families by defying the insurgents.The captain of the Rangers based at the school, who had been in charge there for two years, said that armed insurgents, including individuals notorious for killing people, made night visits to the families with children at the school, and he offered a different explanation for the pressure: The insurgents do not want government education to be available to villagers. The only education they can accept is Islamic education…. The parents have been pressured by the insurgents, who accuse them of putting their children off of the path of Islam because their children are going to the government school. The insurgents prefer that Islamic schools are the only source of education. However, in contradiction to the motives ascribed to the insurgents by the Ranger captain, many of the parents interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had removed their children from the local government school had actually placed them in another government school in a nearby village, and had not moved them to either a pondok school or an Islamic private school. ==

“Yala Governor Grisada Boonrach said that the security forces have clear tactical reasons for taking locations in schools: Schools often have better protection, such as a fence, and a good setup for surveillance from the top of the school. It would be riskier to set up sentry posts with Rangers or soldiers in the periphery of the village, so they place them inside the schools in the center of the villages. [Bases on the periphery] makes them more vulnerable to insurgent attacks, because they are more exposed. A Ranger captain said that the government had established his unit at the school in Pakaluesong as a service to the community and to the school. “The objective of a unit like mine is to ensure that there will be peace in the community. It’s almost like a carrot and stick. The 24th Taskforce [Pattani] is [the stick or] the pressure, and our unit is here to offer solutions, to give the people options in life.” He said that the troops were also at the school “[t]o provide confidence to the teachers so they feel safe. Teachers have been terrified to travel to this area and to work here.” He also made clear that they were not there in response to any specific threat from the insurgents against school buildings. ==

Malaysia and Thailand and the Muslim South

Relations between Thailand and predominately-Muslim Malaysia have been strained by the violence in southern Thailand. Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Matthathr Mohammed has suggested that the Thai government consider giving more autonomy to three southern Muslim provinces. Other Muslim leaders in Malaysia encouraged to the Thai government to talk with the Thai Muslims. Malaysia is regarded as a key player for any kind of settlement

When Thaksin was prime minister he said that Thai militants had received training in Malaysia. The Malaysian government denies the charges and said that it helped Thailand by placing 1,000 soldiers to patrol border areas.

Malaysia was criticized for providing a haven for 131 Thai Muslims who fled to Malaysia, saying they feared persecution at home. The Thais insisted they were insurgents. Thailand was angered further when Malaysia allowed the United Nations refugee agency to interview the Thai Muslims. Finally the matter was cleared up in January 2006, when 131 Thai Muslims who fled to Malaysia were deported back to Thailand .

Other Muslim countries have expressed the displeasure with the situation of Muslims in southern Thailand . The Saudi-Arabai-based Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which speaks for Islamic nations, changed its vew of Thailand from admiration to one of suspicion and criticized the way the Thai government has handle the situation in the south.

Creating “Harmonious Coexistence” Between Buddhists and Muslims

One program the Thai government has set up to improve relations between Muslims and Buddhists in the Deep South is the “multicultural community” in Mae Lan district in the southern border province of Pattani. Here, the government reports: “Buddhist and Muslim Thais are living in harmony and working closely to solve their problems. This community is located at Ban Mae Tina—38 kilometers from the town of Pattani. There are 172 families, with a population of 848, comprising 50 percent Buddhists and 50 percent Muslims. Local residents are engaged mainly in farming natural rubber and field crops. They help one another and solve their problems through discussion and consensus at a forum, known as the “Hasuro council.” [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department <>]

Local leaders and wise men play an important role in cultural linkage...The community has formed several occupational groups for local development. The groups are involved in such activities as dressmaking, dessert cooking, goat farming, furniture production, and a community cooperative. In particular, the dressmaking group has received orders from Malaysia for schoolchildren uniforms. In December 2010, the government revoked the Executive Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations in Mae Lan, replacing it with the Internal Security Act, in a pilot move that would lead to the lifting of the special law from other areas in the three southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. <>

Mae Lan district’s vision is to develop organic farming in line with His Majesty the King’s Sufficiency Economy philosophy and develop a society of wisdom for peace and happiness. According to Mr. Preecha Chanakitkamchorn, Chief of Mae Lan District, violent incidents in Mae Lan have dropped significantly, from 12 in 2009 to only three in 2010. The degree of violence is also on the decline, and no local residents have left their homeland to live elsewhere. Local people have participated more in various activities organized by the authorities, who have also been given useful information concerning security and drugs to help tackle local problems. Mae Lan has a project to build a mosque beside the district office to facilitate religious practices for Muslims and a large Buddha image on the other side of the district office for Buddhists. <>

Village for Widows of Insurgency Violence

Ayesha Akram wrote of WeNews wrote: At Ban RoTan Batu, a village located in the province of Narathiwat, all the residents are women who have lost their husbands to a violent conflict holding strong in southern Thailand. Many of those killed in the conflict are Buddhists; Jeh Ratifah's husband was a Muslim, and she feels he was targeted because he was a police officer. On Sept. 11, 2004, Ratifah's husband was fatally shot by a hooded man astride a motorbike.[Source: Ayesha Akram, WeNews, October 22, 2006+++]

“After his death, Ratifah was terrified that her husband's killers, who have never been caught, would come after her. She gathered her two children and fled her village, not knowing where she would go. "I didn't want to live in my old house; I just didn't feel safe," she said, adding that without her husband's income, she wouldn't have been able to pay the rent anyway. Her husband's boss told her about Ban RoTan Batu, a village created from funds distributed by Thailand's Queen Sirikit, who has a long history of launching projects to help the impoverished. The queen donated over 700 acres of farmland and the project has incurred costs of more than $800,000. +++

“Armed guards patrol the village at all times and security is tight. But beyond the checkpoints, the village is peaceful and serene. Identical houses constructed in neat rows dot the landscape, separated by vast expanses of farmland. The village is slowly becoming self-sufficient as some widows are setting up humble shops in their homes. For the children cycling on the streets, there are many diversions: an ostrich farm, a fish-breeding farm and pottery classes. Trainers employed by the village teach the widows skills ranging from making pottery to working in a fish farm. For her work, every widow is paid 150 baht--about $4--a day, while the average per capita income in Thailand is about $7.50 per day. Plans are now underway for nine more such villages but only one is close to being completed. +++

“The widow village provides a microcosm of the conflict that has ravaged southern Thailand. Twenty-six widows were married to police officers, three to teachers and 18 to government officers, according to Jai. Ratifah's house in the village is sparsely decorated. There are no chairs or tables and the family sleeps on the floor in their upstairs bedroom. Despite the meager resources, Ratifah says she is content. "I consider myself very lucky to have found a house here," she said. "If I hadn't come here, I might not have been alive." +++

“Her neighbor is a Buddhist woman, Timta Chaiyasit, and the two often have tea at each other's houses. Chaiyasit, 45, became a widow two years ago when her husband, a farm laborer, was killed in front of her. Sometimes at night, she can still hear the three quick gunshots fired at her husband's chest. Though she says she doesn't feel inspired to do much since her husband's death, Chaiyasit keeps her house spick-and-span. Plastic flowers are arranged in a glass vase and lace doilies are spread on top of the refrigerator and the television set. On the gleaming counters in her kitchen vegetables and spices are piled high. Since Chaiyasit only dares to leave the village once a month, she generally buys groceries in bulk. But there is one dish she never cooks, fried chicken, because it brings back painful memories of her dead husband feasting on a platter of crispy chicken, dipping each piece in spicy relish before biting in."It has been two years but I just can't forget him," she said. "I keep thinking about him." +++

“Chaiyasit's entire life revolves around the village. Every morning she rides her motorbike to her pottery-making class, works there till late afternoon, returns home for a meal and then takes a nap. In the evening she prays and sometimes pays a visit to her neighbors. It's a life Chaiyasit is determined to hang on to. "I never want to leave this village, never," she says. "I feel safe here and I don't know what will happen to me if I ever have to leave." +++

Improving Education in the Muslim South

According to the Thai government: “Education has been advocated as one of the best ways to improve the situation in the southern border provinces, according to several reports. The Ministry of Education has set six education strategies to be implemented in the deep South. The first strategy seeks to develop the quality of education. In the second strategy, Islamic studies will be promoted and local residents in the South will be able to have Islamic education as they wish. The third strategy seeks to support local private schools, such as pondok and tadika. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department <>]

In the fourth strategy, vocational education will be promoted to enable local residents to earn a living both in Thailand and abroad. The fifth strategy seeks to improve education management and develop provincial and district offices under the Office of Private Education Commission and subdistrict offices under the Office of Non-formal and Informal Education into IT centers for communication. The sixth strategy, education for security, seeks to ensure safety for teachers and other education personnel. <>

“The Ministry of Education has offered annual scholarships, from kindergarten to graduate level, for those whose lives have been disrupted by the unrest. The Ministry of Interior has also carried out a project to send southern Muslim students to continue their studies in various universities. The project is considered an important measure to tackle southern problems, especially those concerning security, socio-psychology, and economic development. It is intended to provide educational opportunities for young Muslim Thais and upgrade their living standards. <>

“Meanwhile, the College of Islamic Studies, Prince of Songkla University, Pattani province, is making efforts to upgrade the quality of Islamic studies in Thailand to suit the challenges of the globalization era. The efforts will contribute to the tackling of southern problems in the long run. Since a large number of Muslim students in the South had no access to education loans, in accordance with Islamic principles, the Ministry of Finance assigned the Islamic Bank of Thailand to work with Krung Thai Bank and the Income Contingency Loan program in setting guidelines for extending credit to Muslim students for education purposes.” <>

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “Education for the southern provinces - the country's lowest standard - must be further improved. In the long run, better education of disenchanted youth would turn them into productive work forces in society. Muslim youths have suffered from high unemployment. From 2007-09, the government allocated Bt90 million to fund Muslim students for their higher education and study aboard. This year's Bt27-million budget will focus on job development programmes, internships and other cultural-related activities. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, February 22, 2010]

Improving the Justice System in the Muslim South

In four Muslim-dominant southern border provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, and Satun a law governing the family and inheritance in accordance with Islamic principles has existed since the 1950s. There are plans to the law to cover other provinces. There is also a Chularajamontri (State Counselor for All Islamic Affairs in Thailand). In May 2010, a Muslim spiritual leader was named to the position for the first time.

According to the Thai government: “Emphasizing the policy of ensuring justice based on the rule of law as a means of bringing reconciliation and restoring peace in the deep South, the Ministry of Justice has come up with a strategic plan for 2010-2014 on the development of the judicial process in the southern border provinces. The plan seeks to reduce conflicts through the principles of reconciliation and harmonization and emphasizes community justice and empowerment, with active participation of local, community, and religious leaders. In ensuring justice, the country’s human rights obligations will be adhered to, while laws will be enforced fairly and equally for all, so that people will feel more secure and have more confidence in the justice system. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department <>]

“The plan consists of five strategies. In the first strategy, justice will be developed on the basis of the rule of law, in accordance with local culture, lifestyle, religious principles, and good governance. The second strategy seeks to enhance both community and alternative justice. Conflicts of all types will be addressed in order to set guidelines for settlements and reduce conflicts through the participation of the community, local residents, and civil society. The third strategy seeks to develop the justice system and treatment of wrongdoers in the southern border provinces before, during, and after the judicial process, based on compassion, loving-kindness, and forgiveness. The fourth strategy involves remedial measures to rehabilitate those affected by violent incidents in the South. Guidelines will be adjusted to suit each locality, reduce duplication of work, and eliminate the feelings of unfair treatment and discrimination. In the fifth strategy, public relations to ensure justice and provide people with accurate news and information will be promoted. <>

“The plan also calls for the establishment of an institute for law development and judicial process in the deep South. The institute will serve as a major mechanism for developing laws and the judicial system” that “includes the enforcement of Islamic law in accordance with Islamic principles. For instance, Islamic laws governing the family and inheritance will be amended. Local people will be urged to participate in solving problems in their respective areas.” <>

Reconciliation Promotion Center in Pattani

According to the Thai government: “The Reconciliation Promotion Center in the southern border province of Pattani has been recognized for its role in ensuring justice for persons suspected of creating unrest and for its success in encouraging perpetrators to turn over a new leaf. Established on 30 April 2004, it is located in the Ingkhayut Borihan Military Camp, supervised by the Fourth Army Area Command, in Nong Chik district. In the initial stage, the center’s mission was mainly to interrogate those suspected of being involved in disturbances in the southern provinces. But since then, it has placed emphasis on providing them with better understanding about the government’s policies in the South, so that they would be willing to cooperate with officials in restoring peace in the South. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department <>]

“The detainees, and many others, had been misled into joining groups intent on committing violence, or they joined factions with other dangerous intentions. Some of them joined out of fear for the safety of their life and property. Confusion about the government was spread among them, and they were urged to hate state officials. Most of the suspects in the center said that, prior to being detained, they had negative attitudes toward the operations of officials, as they were afraid of being treated unfairly or being tortured. This could be observed from their unfriendly manner and refusal to give cooperation with officials in their early days of detention. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department <>]

“Officials at the center treat them with sincerity and honesty and make friends with them; they also invite a Muslim resource person to educate the detainees in proper Islamic principles. Both the detainees and their families are invited to carry out religious and sports activities together with officials, especially during the period when relatives are allowed to meet the detainees. They are also provided with knowledge on how to translate the Sufficiency Economy philosophy into action. <>

“Following the process of enhancing better understanding, most of the perpetrators have been found to have better understanding about the problems in the South, so they would like to turn over a new leaf and cooperate with officials. As a result, officials have received more information about the network of perpetrators in the deep South, particularly the places where weapons and explosives are hidden by those who have caused so much turmoil. The suspects also show their interest in reforming by leading officials in searches for the weapons, and by so doing, officials are able to reduce violent incidents and casualties. <>

“After the end of the process, the suspects will be sent back home. Many of them have asked to work at the Reconciliation Promotion Center, while others have come to visit officials from time to time on a social basis. This shows that they would like to be good citizens and do not want to be connected with perpetrators of violent incidents. <>

“The process of enhancing better understanding is based on human rights and the following fairness principles: 1) Officials record the biographies of the suspects in the first stage and talk with them; 2) Coordination is established with a forensic specialist team, led by Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, Director-General of the Institute of Forensic Science, Ministry of Justice, in order to examine seized evidence; 3) Meet-the-relatives sessions are arranged for the detained suspects between 09.30 and 10.00 hr and 14.30 and 15.00 hr every day; 4) If the suspects become sick during their detention, they will be provided with medical care immediately; 5) A Muslim resource person is invited to provide proper knowledge and understanding about Islamic principles. <>

“The Reconciliation Promotion Center encourages detainees to join sports activities with officials during their detention period. Other activities are also arranged for them, such as learning about hair-cutting and food preparation, from the implementation of a Sufficiency Economy program. During nighttime, they will be allowed to have private time, such as watching television. Every Friday, a Muslim prayer session will be arranged for them and Muslim officials, as a way to conduct joint religious practice.”<>

Guitar-Carrying Activist Preaches Peace in Thailand's South

In 2006, AP reported: “In a T-shirt, with a Mao cap shielding his bearded face, he looks like a refugee from the '60s. Quirky though his looks may be, the self-appointed emissary who calls himself Souriya D. Sunshine has convinced at least some embittered Thai Muslims that they should give peace a chance. "Instead of gunfire, I use songs and a sincere approach to win their hearts and minds," Souriya said. His gifts, he said, have convinced more than 200 suspected insurgents to turn themselves in a sharp contrast to the government's almost total failure to ease the area's bloody conflict. [Source: AP, March 23, 2006]

Souriya is a Buddhist... But he carries a guitar for his encounters with Muslims, although the instrument does have the banana clip of an AK-47 assault rifle welded to its neck, and a bandolier for a strap. "I made the guitar from an AK rifle as a symbol that we will no longer kill them," Souriya said. [Ibid]

AFP reported: “ The 50-year-old Buddhist settled in Narathiwat, the most violent of the three insurgency-plagued southern provinces on the border of Malaysia from his native Isaan in northeast Thailand. "I could not sit still. I wanted to do something. I wanted to bring peace to my country," the gray-bearded peacenik said in his wooden office with his six-string built from the rifle, which bears a strap made from spent bullet shells. [Source: AFP, June 1, 2006]

Souriya sighed when asked about an end to the violence "I only hope the violence will end soon. But the problem is that the government does not understand Muslim ways of life in the south. We need more communication and understanding of each other," he said.

Guitar-Carrying Activist Gets Insurgents to Turn Themselves In

AFP reported: “Acting as an intermediary between militants and police, Souriya says he has helped over 200 insurgents, many of whom were hiding in Malaysia, surrender to Thai authorities. The trick, he says, is nostalgic Thai songs and he insists he has received no money from the government. "I bring my guitar to see militants and sing songs for them. They are very homesick. When I sing songs like, 'Please come back to Thailand', some militants break down in tears. Then I tell them they are safe after surrender." [Source: AFP, June 1, 2006]

Souriya's most prized catch so far is Masakree Dorloh, a 43-year-old former Islamic militant from Narathiwat who was on the Thai police's most wanted list for charges including killing police officers and smuggling weapons and drugs. Masakree's wife asked Souriya for help and he called the wanted man in February 2004 while he was hiding in Malaysia. The Thai police put a bounty worth 500,000 baht (13,000 dollars) on his head.

"I was innocent but no one believed me. Without Souriya's help, I could have ended up living in Malaysia forever," the bulky former militant said at Souriya's wooden office. He surrendered himself to police in late February 2004 but the government later dropped all the charges against him. He declined to discuss the terms of his release. "Souriya has the spirit to help people," Masakree said. "Because of Souriya, I am a free man. He gave me a second chance,"

Masakree opened a Muslim restaurant called "Paperbirds Restaurant," the name inspired by Thailand's 2004 airdropping of 120 million origami birds in the south as a peace gesture. Like Masakree, a militant-turned-chef, some men working as waiters at the restaurant were former rebel fighters, Souriya said. He called on his friends to financially support the open-air restaurant.

"We need jobs for former militants. Masakree learned how to cook while he was hiding in Malaysia because he couldn't go anywhere else,"[Source: AFP, June 1, 2006]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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