Sunday, July 25, 2021

perspective

Southern appeal draws Army’s scorn


The insurgency in the border provinces will not end until intimidation stops and root causes are honestly addressed 

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This past week 38 civil-society organisations and 22 academics and political activists from all walks of life gathered at Prince of Songkhla University’s Pattani campus to call on the Internal Security Operation Command Region 4 to stop trying to intimidate them and the public at large.
Attaching their names to a formal declaration were both Buddhists and Muslims, Thais and Malays. They included LGBT activists who are fed up with the tactics employed by the military in charge of the restive region to stymie freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.
The assembly pointed out that, as long as the government and Patani Malay liberation movements refuse to come together to address the root cause of the fighting, “conflicts in the area will be perpetuated and will not cease”. If peace and reconciliation are to be achieved, they said, residents of the far South must not continue being denied justice. To ignore their plea would “leave civilians – regardless of their ethnicity or religion – living in abysmal agony and facing the harrowing consequences”.
In effect, the signatories said the Army is way off the mark with its current strategy. The document did not elaborate, but it has become clear to both residents and distant observers that the Army has a free hand to do whatever it wants, since no one is scrutinising its actions. What happens in the South tends to remain beyond the notice of the government in Bangkok and the citizens of every other region.
The Fourth Army could have accepted the public statement for what it is – an attempt to warn all sides to respect norms and civility in the deep South – but instead it responded with a statement of its own the very next day. It roiled the conflict further by accusing the academics and civic leaders of distorting the truth. 
It is not clear whether the Army actually believes its claims of success in pacifying the region, or whether it’s just saying so because it’s confident Thais elsewhere don’t care what soldiers are doing in the South. The Army’s half-baked amnesty scheme, Bring People Home, is widely regarded in the South as an expensive joke, a 
public-relations stunt that can do nothing in terms of fostering peace and reconciliation. Muslims see the initiative as dehumanising, while Buddhists doubt it can have any positive outcome on the conflict. Critics have dubbed it the “Bring Criminals Home Project”, suggesting the Army has been duped.
The project might actually have a chance of doing some good and pose a real challenge to the separatist movements if the Army treated those who return in a more dignified manner. But in the current arrangement, the Malay Muslims can’t help but feel sad and embarrassed for these young men who are forced to undergo a symbolic act of surrender. They are forced to swallow their pride and declare that what they stood for and fought for was meaningless. For the Army, the symbolic act is good enough. But for peace and reconciliation, it represents a worrying setback.
Whether or not distant observers agree with the violent tactics of the militants, no one can deny that the Malay Muslims and insurgents share the same historical mistrust of the Thai state. What’s happening in the South now is doing nothing to regain trust.

Published : March 06, 2018