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Is this the end of violence in the South? Not likely

Is this the end of violence in the South? Not likely

Published on Apr 30, 2004

Wednesday was a tragic day for all Thai people, and not just for those in Pattani and the nearby provinces. An ancient mosque, a house of God and sanctuary for Muslims, became a site of carnage, splattered with blood and bullets.

Anyone who thinks that the killings of the 107 young separatist rebels, including 32 who fled into the mosque, during their raid on 10 police posts was a stunning victory should pause and consider history. The tension between Malay-speaking Muslims in the deep South and the hegemonic central Thai government has during its long history led to numerous killings. And there obviously is no shortage of people willing to be killed.

Interestingly, nearly 56 years ago to the day, fighting broke out in Narathiwat on April 26, 1948, degenerating over the course of the next two days into an open battle during which 400 Muslim peasants and 30 police officers were killed, according to Thammasat University historian Thanet Abhornsuwan. During the subsequent suppression by the government, 2,000 to 6,000 people fled to what was then Malaya. This was not the first such incident, nor is the one that took place on Wednesday likely to be the last.

Wednesday's killings, which included the deaths of five security officials, will go down in history as a failure on the part of the government and Thai society at large to deal with a religious minority group in a peaceful - or at least a less bloody - fashion.

The National Human Rights Commission must investigate whether it was necessary to kill the 32 insurgents holed up inside Krue Se mosque less than seven hours after being surrounded by the government's forces.

General Pallop Pinmanee, deputy director of the Internal Security Operation Command, who was in charge of the situation, ordered the killings despite Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's instruction not to storm the mosque. Pallop's scanty excuses that a mob of angry villagers was brewing and that he didn't know what would happen it darkness fell are an affront to the government's ability to control potentially deadly situations more humanely and sensitively. Unfortunately the events on Wednesday can be placed within a context. The Thai government, regardless of who is at its head, has always opposed any move towards greater respect for the South's history, religions, culture and ultimately its right to self-determination. Martial law has been put into effect numerous times in recent decades; locally elected governors are not allowed; and Islamic religious leaders appointed by Bangkok seem to toe the government line.

And so at dawn on Wednesday, the rebels, feeling alienated in their very own homeland, shouted "God is great" as they began their near suicidal charge, some armed only with knives, swords, daggers and holy books.

Sadly, it's not just the state, but also the media, especially television, and the Thai people at large who let their Muslim brethren down. Most Thai television networks were expansive, grandly proclaiming that at last, after four months of violence, a large number of these drug-addicted "bandits", to use prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's word, had been killed. Meanwhile, if one watched or listened to the BBC, one got a different version of the events. Issues like discrimination against Muslims in the deep South were mentioned.

"If we can maintain exports, then there is no problem," a news anchorman on Channel 11 said in English that night, seemingly unaware of the socio-political repercussions of such statements.

Just hours after the carnage, the nearly defunct Pattani United Liberation Organisation reacted to the day's events by warning on its website for tourists not to visit the deep South. "Patani [sic] people are not responsible for anything happens to you after this warning," read the message posted in less-than perfect English.

"This is like a nightmare which had never occurred before," said another highly popular news personality on Channel 9, shortly after 11pm, seemingly oblivious to local history.

Looking beyond the media to civil society, we recently heard prominent anthropologists, the supposed masters of cross-cultural understanding, admitting in public during a seminar that little had been done to study the area's cultures or the issue of violence in Thai society.

No human rights or peace groups stepped in during the seven-hour siege to help prevent the government's mass killings at Krue Se mosque.

If the people in the South are so fanatical about upon having a separate, independent Islamic state, then it appears that many of us are now equally fanatical in defending the territorial integrity of what we believe is Thai soil. Or has it been that way for all along?

Pravit Rojanaphruk is a senior writer for The Nation.

Pravit Rojanaphruk

Terbitan : 1 Mei 2004

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