Friday, July 18, 2008

News From the South of Thailand

Bangkok Reporting

This post is the latest in a series from our Bangkok correspondent, H. Numan.

According to The Bangkok Post:

Insurgent struggle not over after all

Claims that Thailand’s decades-old southern separatist struggle — which has claimed about 2,700 lives over the past four years — was over were dismissed Friday as a hoax or a failed publicity stunt.

On Thursday a self-proclaimed spokesman for the 11 “underground” southern separatist groups announced in a broadcast on army-controlled TV 5 that they had agreed to ceasefire on July 14 and wanted to see peace return to the region.

The broadcast was greeted with scepticism and befuddlement, since there has been no sign of an abatement of violence in the deep-South, which comprises Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces.

The man who appeared on the army broadcast has been identified as Malipeng Khan, a former separatist leader who was active from 1984-87, and who tried but failed to unify various insurgent factions and has no control over the current situation.

“We don’t think the people who made the announcement are very important,” said Colonel Acra Tiproch, spokesman for the southern army region.
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“If they don’t deliver on their promise it’s not the reputation of the government or military that suffers but only that of the one responsible for the broadcast,” Acra told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa.

The man responsible for the broadcast was former army commander-in-chief General Chetta Thanajaro, who now heads the Ruam Jai Thai Pattana political party that holds only 10 seats in the current coalition government.

“The whole thing was crazy, a hoax,” said Sunai Pasuk, the Thailand representative for Human Rights Watch, which closely monitors the southern crisis.

Sunai noted that Chetta still has good connections with the military, although he is now a politician, and the broadcast may have been an attempt to bolster the government’s flagging popularity.

If so, it may cause more damage than good, observers said.

“There is likely to be a destructive backfire from this hoax, and who then will take the responsibility?” asked Sunai.

An estimated 2,700 people have died in clashes and revenge killings in the deep South since January, 2004, when Muslim militants raided an army depot and stole more than 300 weapons, prompting a government crackdown on the long-simmering separatist struggle.

The three provinces bordering Malaysia comprised the independent Islamic sultanate of Pattani more than 200 years ago before it fell under Bangkok’s rule. More than 80 per cent of the three provinces’ 2 million people are Muslims, making the region an anomaly in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

Yesterday an article appeared in the news about a cease fire. I didn’t report about it, because I found it somewhat strange, and today this article confirmed my suspicion.

For readers who are unaware about the southern trouble in Thailand: don’t be too much alarmed. You can safely enjoy a holiday here. The troubles are in the very deep south, where tourists rarely (if ever) come.

This was Bangkok reporting,
H. Numan.