Troubles in the South – January-September 2004

Troubles in the South - January-September 2004

Troubles in the South index page

Superstition, fear and loathing: the secret life of the Thai Muslim militant - AFP, September 1, 2004
Repeating the name of God 70,000 times every day for 40 consecutive days was supposed to make Abdullah Akoh impervious to bullets and knives, but he decided not to take the chance.
He stayed at home when a group of fellow Muslim "Invincibles" took on the Thai Army in a failed separatist uprising on April 28 armed only with knives, their faith and a grievous sense of injustice...
The roots of the violence go back to Thailand's formal annexation of an ethnic Malay kingdom in 1902, sparking sporadic bouts of unrest over the following decades...
He remembered with anger seeing the bodies of women and children he alleges were abused by Thai police during their repressive control of the south and the demonstrations that failed to bring justice.
"I saw the body of a woman who had been raped and had her throat cut," he said. "I heard her one-year-old daughter was hit until she died. This happened many times.
"We asked for justice but the government would just give the families a bit of money.
"It all came together. Teacher Soh told me the history, the background and all the events that had happened but I had heard many things and seen bodies."...
His first call to arms was on April 28 when Soh, a senior figure in the group working below an unknown commander, ordered the men, wearing trademark red headbands, to attack 11 targets, said Abdullah.
The men had been given a 20-page booklet, revealing how they would be protected by their faith, by using "cursed sand" to make roads look like the sea, the protective incantations and chanting certain words to make themselves invisible...

Religious school crackdown: Thai security gets an F - The Straits Times, September 1, 2004
...The targeting of state schools over the last decade reflects the resistance by Muslims in the south to what they believe to be symbols of national assimilation and the cultural domination of the Buddhist Thais.
In fact, then-premier Sarit Thanarat's attempt to control the religious schools, or pondoks, in southern Thailand during the 1960s backfired and led to the formation of the National Revolutionary Front by a pondok teacher.
...Hence, what is required is the reform of pondok education in Thailand. Instead of policies that control the pondoks, the Thai government could support pondok education. For instance, it could help provide infrastructure, like tap water and electricity in schools. Provision of science laboratories, computers and libraries would go a long way towards improving the quality of education in the pondoks.
One of the suggestions given by pondok owners at a workshop organised by the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand is the creation of a Pondok Institute Association which would establish educational standards for all pondoks. This proposal would help build trust and would serve as a point of communication between Bangkok and religious leaders in southern Thailand.
The Thai government could also create higher education opportunities for graduates of pondoks, so that students from the pondoks would not have to go to the Middle East for further studies...

Indonesians threatening jihad in Thai south are misled - The Nation, May 28, 2004
...Chavalit Yongchaiyudh rejected comments by two dozen members of the hardline Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), who gathered outside Thailand's embassy in Jakarta Thursday to protest the "slaughter" of Muslims in majority Buddhist Thailand.
"These are people who live far away and they don't know what the reality was, so they believe the Thai government attacked and killed (Muslims), but the true fact is we were under attack," Chavalit told reporters...
Chavalit was unmoved by the Islamic group's call for "jihad" if more Muslims were killed in the south. "If we are concerned about every little thing we will get indigestion," he said.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra dismissed the Jakarta demonstration as "really nothing," saying only five members of the Islamic group went to the embassy to inquire about the incidents in the south.
"When embassy officials explained and told them about the remarks made by Thailand's Muslim spiritual leader (supporting suppression of the unrest), they were satisfied and left," Thaksin said...

Demonstration at Thai Embassy in Jakarta - Jakarta Post, May 27, 2004
Hardline Indonesian Muslims who demonstrated outside the Thai embassy Thursday said they are ready to wage holy war in defence of Muslims in Thailand's violence-plagued south.
Some 24 members of the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) gathered outside the embassy and sent representatives inside to meet diplomats.
Demonstrators said they were calling for Bangkok to stop the "slaughter" of Muslims in Thailand, a majority Buddhist nation.
"If they don't do something about it, if they stay silent, we are ready to go there," said Muhammad Hussein, a demonstrator armed with a megaphone. "We as Muslims are called for jihad if... even one is slaughtered."...

What would Buddha say? - Jerusalem Post (free registration required), May 13, 2004
Despite the silly title, this is an interesting article with lots of background on the troubles in the south

Consensus on troubles in the South? - May 13, 2004 monitors many international intelligence services and receives reports through very private sources. After months of confused reports of the real reasons behind the troubles in the South, a general consensus for international analysts is slowly emerging: The violence is caused by powerful interests involved mainly in illegal smuggling activities. Those involved include both governmental and security figures. These people have powerful supporters in Bangkok which makes it difficult for the central government to act effectively against them.
A US base in the south is being proposed and is an attractive option for the central government as US troops would not be influenced by local politics and the relationships that protect the wrongdoers. The threat of bases as a bargaining chip has already put pressure on local troublemakers to negotiate with the government and also pressure Malaysia to crack down on criminal elements on its side of the border. The US is interested in keeping the area under control as it is an known transit point for international terrorists and terrorist planning.

More analysis of the problems in the South - May 13, 2004
Disruption of royal programs led to violence - Asia Security Monitor, May 12, 2004
The underlying reason leading to the escalation of communal violence in southern Thailand can be found in the autocratic rule of the current government, observes Karim Rasian in the Philippine Inquirer. To the contrary, the previous era of religious peace resulted from the culturally and socially sensitive approach under the programs of Thai monarch, King Bhumibol. The Muslim insurrection of the 1970s and '80s ended after the King addressed the recommendations of local leaders and implemented programs that respected the region's multi-faceted societal ethos. Tragically, during the past few years, Prime Minister Thaksin imposed his impersonal CEO-style in the South, disrupting the successful initiatives inspired by the King.
Under the King and the once-dominant Democratic Party, Bangkok helped to facilitate order through a mixture of negotiation, accommodation and the use of force - only when necessary. On the other hand, Thaksin's absolutist martial law approach, and his political style of "crony-capitalism," has fostered corruption from the capital to the ground-levels of policy-making. This implicitly has outraged the Muslim population, and subsequently, put power into the hands of local and foreign militants who had long been present but held at bay by the King's approach.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, a prominent opposition figure explains, "There was a clear and positive trend in the South before Thaksin assumed power. Thaksin's missteps demonstrate the limitations of his aggressive 'business' approach to the infinitely more complex task of managing a nation."

Islam Online - May 13, 2004
Recently, Islam Online has been featuring some tough articles about the problems. Despite the tough title of their latest one, 'Muslims Under Attack in Thailand', the article is an attempt to explain the background of the conflict from an Egyptian point of view.

Our day of carnage - Bangkok Post, May 12, 2004
As unsually tough editorial from the Bangkok Post that accurately describes the prevailing man-on-the-street feeling about the killings of radicals on the South: The massacre at the Krue Se Mosque was far away, the victims belonged to a small minority, the state acted in self-defence, the radicals/activists/terrorists/bandits were misled youths/drug-crazed, they deserved what they got--murdered in cold blood.
But I ask myself what if they had been Buddhist Thai students who fled into a Buddhist temple. Who would have dared to give the order to fire rocket-propelled grenades into a Buddhist place of worship and refuge?...

A tale of two newspapers: Theories about the South - May 10, 2004
The Nation's pseudonymous Chang Noi has an examination of the various theories of what might really be going on in the South: (Interpreting the South, The Nation, May 10, 2004): Among people who matter to the outcome, there now seem to be three interpretations of what is behind the tragic events in Thailand's far South. These interpretations are very different and have very different implications for what might and should happen next...

Contrast this with the Bangkok Post's reassuring commentary (A closer look at southern problems, Bangkok Post, May 10, 2004). Apparently the Post has it all figured out: ...The violence that erupted last month and resulted in 106 deaths did not occur because of foreigners, most of whom are dedicated teachers, businessmen and visitors. Neither did it occur because of religious schools, or even the infamous "third hand". It is abhorrent to both southern Thais and their Malaysian neighbours, and has no important popular support.

Mosque becomes morbid tourist site - AP, May 9, 2004
..."There were so few tourists before," said Maiyuria Boriboonsuk, 38, who started selling the small photos of the massacre and the destroyed building since yesterday.
"Since this incident... we had this idea to sell these pictures," she said. Maiyuria was also selling small 99 baht ($A3.50) plates with pictures from April 28.
She said she got the pictures from her brother, but did not know where he got them from.
Officials, however, didn't appreciate her entrepreneurship, and later confiscated 100 of her pictures yesterday before Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited the mosque.
"He came and took all my photos," she said, crying.
"I decided to sell something different because there are already drinks and food here, but I didn't know I was doing anything wrong. I'm an uneducated villager, and I don't know what can be sold and what can't," she said.

More on Krungthep Thurakij's doctored photo - May 4, 2004
A person we know to be knowledgeable informs us: Unable to find a dead Muslim militant to pose clutching the required weaponry after the horrible bloodshed in the South last Wednesday, Thai-language newspaper, Krungthep Thurakij, decided to enlist digital imaging software to solve the problem.
Someone in front of the computer deftly removed an empty machete sheath from the clutching hand of a dead militant in the photograph replaced it with a very nasty sword.
Closer inspection of the photograph shows the digital rearmament job to be flawed, but what really gave the game away was the exact same photograph appearing on the front page of The Nation on the same day, showing the body holding an empty machete sheath.
Both The Nation and Krungthep Thurakij are owned by the Nation Multimedia Group and have editorial offices in the same building. The two papers, along with the third paper in the group’s stable, the mass circulation Kom Chad Luek, share the same pool of photographers.
We heard that [name withheld] told staff he would settle for nothing less than a dead Muslim militant holding a sword.
Whether it was the photographer or other staff trying to please their boss, or [name withheld] himself who ordered the changes, is unclear.
Editors demanding photographs that effectively slant a story in a particular direction are not uncommon. But this is the first we have heard of the slanting being done on a computer with Photoshop.
In many countries, such callous and outrageous distortion would end not only the jobs, but the careers of those involved. It would also likely mean a complete loss of credibility in the newspaper, the withdrawal of advertisers, a plummeting circulation, and criminal and civil prosecution...
The blatant manipulation of this image is insidious in the extreme. If they can get away with this, there are sad and sorry times ahead for the truth...

Above: The unaltered photo

Krungthep Thurakij's doctored photo - May 1, 2004

The day after the violence in the South, 2Bangkok stopped by the newsstands to get a few shots of the headlines about the event in the Thai press.
A striking image (right), which we had not seen among the many photos circulating in the Thai press and on the wires, did stick in our minds. However the image turned out to be a fake: Newspapers urged to be more careful (Bangkok Post, May 1, 2004)
...The newspaper showed the photograph of a dead militant with a knife in his left hand. In fact, the man held a sheath, not a knife.
Krungthep Thurakij yesterday ran the original, unaltered photo the following day and apologised for displaying the "wrong photo", which it said resulted from production errors.
Duangkamol Chotana, editor of Krungthep Thurakij, told the association that the newspaper immediately took corrective action once it realised that a mistake was made to prevent public misunderstanding.



Background info on the the troubles in the South - April 30, 2004

Thailand Islamic Insurgency - Global Security, April 29, 2004
The south is on fire! - The Nation web special

Right: Matichon front page

Attacks in the South - April 29, 2004
With stories about bloodshed in the South topping news worldwide, news wires are issuing generalized background info for inclusion on newspaper sidebars for people who are not sure of the difference between Thailand and Taiwan. It is interesting to see how foreigners distill recent Thai history and which players are mentioned: Major events in Thailand's political history, AP, April 28, 2004.
The Nation has a good overview of world media coverage of the events (Violent TV images beamed worldwide, The Nation, April 29, 2004).
Also: Countries With Muslim Minority Populations - AP, April 29, 2004


Dozens killed in gun battles in the South - April 28, 2004
A reader alerted us to this breaking story on the wires: 70 said killed in Thailand gunbattles in the South (AP, April 28, 2004). This came out too late for the Thai papers today and is just going out over with wires.

The latest from Chang Noi: Another case of shooting the messenger - The Nation, April 28, 2004
...The fact that the ministerial team at the forefront of the drug war (Chavalit, Thammarak) has been pulled off the case in the South is very significant. Thaksin knows what forces are at work. The costs of allowing them free rein in the South have become too high.
Chang Noi's website.

Nepotism could hinder Thailand's counter-terror campaign - Asia Security Monitor, No. 73, April 2, 2004
[Ed.: Asian Security Monitor does not provide very much incisive analysis as they seem to only depend only on the bland news gleaned from the English-language papers. What they do have is concise wrap-ups of what is going on--like the one below.]
March 30: A new Thai government agency has been formed to coordinate the actions of the military, police and Interior Ministry in bringing peace to the terrorism-plagued South, reports the Bangkok Post. The establishment of the "Southern Border Provinces Peace-making Division"' has been ordered by Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. Speaking to reporters, Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) deputy director Gen Pallop Pinmanee said "We avoid using the words 'three southern border provinces' because we do not want to make people feel that it is for three provinces only. In fact, it is for all southern provinces." Thirty ISOC officers had been sent from Bangkok to prepare the way for the new center, which will operate out of Sirindhorn Camp in Yarang district of Pattani. The new division will be tasked with coordinating police, military and Interior Ministry operations and all intelligence work in the southern border provinces.
The Bangkok Post and Bangkok Nation also report, Lt-Gen Pisarn Wattanawongkeeree was appointed Fourth Army Commander [responsible for the southern provinces] in a reshuffle of almost 500 senior military officers. Several officers close to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his cousin, General Chaisit Shinawatra, the Army Commander-in-Chief, were promoted to key posts. Among the most notable, Lt. Gen. Pongsak Ekbannasingh - who was removed as Fourth Army chief on March 20 soon after 39 arson attacks occurred in one night - was promoted to Deputy Army Chief-of-Staff. He replaced Lt. Gen. Amnaj Mekilinhom, who became Chief-of-Staff of Gen. Chaisit Shinawatra. The mid-year transfers of military personnel involve the three armed forces, the Defense Permanent Secretary's Office and the Supreme Command. A wary officer in the Fourth Army expressed concern about nepotism in the reshuffle. "We were surprised since we were unaware that career advancements would be based on specialties rather than capabilities. This kind of nepotism has demoralized our forces,'' he said.

Trouble in the South: Who really are these "ghosts" and what is their agenda? - Asia Times Online, April 2, 2004
Thais are fighting "ghosts" in the Muslim south. That's how some police and soldiers dub the elusive perpetrators of a remotely detonated bomb that recently broke up the revelry of Malaysian tourists in "girlie bars" in the Yala province border town of Sungai Golok and the masked raiders who stole a cache of explosive material that could "blow up a town", as one official put it.
The actions of these "ghosts" have thrown Thai officials into shock and sent injured Malaysian tourists hurrying back across the border. The Thai government is in crisis mode. A campaign of bombings, shootings, and arms thefts starting in January and initially called the work of "bandits" is now largely being blamed on "separatists" and is emerging as Thailand's most serious security threat since the communist insurgency in the early 1980s...

PM needs to pause and think - Bangkok Post, March 31, 2004
An unusually tough editorial for the Post: Even as late as last week, the prime minister was quoted in this paper as saying: ``Settling problems in the South is like making apple juice. The apple has to be chopped and crushed in the blender, which will make a loud noise. If we can put up with that, we'll get the apple juice.'' Speaking as he was to security officials, one shudders to think exactly what kind of message Mr Thaksin was intending to send. Do we really think that heavy-handed suppression is the solution?
For a start, nobody I have talked to seems to understand what actually is going on in the deep South. What is the motivation for the terror attacks? Is there external support? Why now?

Disappearances - The Nation, March 29, 2004
It seems each week is starting off with a blistering editorial from The Nation:
...Anyone who listened to his (Somchai Pheelaphaijit's) speech on February 27 at the Santichon Foundation in Lat Phrao would understand why it turned out to be his last...
It is possible that in the days and months to come, this sort of disappearance will become almost normal. Along with extrajudicial killing, disappearance has proven to be an effective tool for eliminating "unpatriotic" individuals.
One indication of the success of the practice of disappearance is that top authorities have never been implicated in it throughout Thai history.
Another is that prominent cases are never solved.
Based on records filed by the government every year to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Thailand is a country that has high disappearances per capita among the Asian region. Thailand has been filing these reports every year since 1992 and there has been no progress on solving the cases of disappearance.

What's really going on in the South? - February 28, 2004
The government is renewing claims of an inside job causing the troubles in the South (Police report upsets Chaisit - Not convinced by `inside' job theory). Quite a few foreign analysts now agree that the troubles in the South are not part of the global terrorism scare, but are indeed probably corrupt police and army elements settling scores and trying to blame it on Islamic terrorists. The way the events have unfolded are not in keeping with the kind of activities international terrorists or separatists would carry out. The government is lucky that their initial knee-jerk pronouncements about the cause of the trouble turned out to be correct.

Earlier: Analysis of problems in the south - January 29, 2004
The Asia Security Monitor points out Thailand and International Islamic Front published by the India-based South Asia Analysis Group on January 9, 2004. The report including numbers of Thais who trained with radical Islamic groups in Pakistan, refutations of Thai government explanations of the unrest, and what radical groups plan for each Southeast Asian nation. Asia Security Monitor also comments that The recent brutal killings of Buddhist monks in Thailand, bears the characteristics of al-Qaeda tactics, such as the destruction of the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

It is worth noting that most foreign analysts do not see any direct connection with international terrorism.

Earlier: "The south is a battlefield that Thaksin must win." - Asia Security Monitor, No. 63, January 23, 2004
Some notes on the troubles in the south from the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington, D.C.:
January 11: Violence in Thailand's Muslim-majority south is a reflection of the tense relationship between Bangkok and the provinces bordering Malaysia, reports Agence France Presse. Panitan Wattanayagorn, an academic of Chulalongkorn University, stated, "This [Thaksin's] government came in and in the flick of a hand declared a victory in the south over many centuries of conflict... The first step, when Thaksin came to power in 2001, was the "irresponsible" withdrawal of security forces, as exemplified by the abolition of joint police, military and civil command over the region... [This] created a conducive environment for the rise of a power struggle among many, many groups in the southern provinces," and permitted organized crime gangs to ally with corrupt local politicians to proliferate.
The Thai government, meanwhile, has rejected "speculation" by a key security official that Jemaah Islaymiah (JI) was implicated in attacks that took place on January 4, which caused the death of four soldiers and two policemen and burnt down government schools. A member of the opposition Democrats party, Thavorn Se-nium, said that the government lacks sensitivity toward Muslims. Thavorn stated, "police transferred from the center of the country to the south where they searched mosques with their dogs, a serious insult for the Muslim population." The destruction of government schools stemmed from anger toward the government's Thai-language curriculum imposed on Muslim children. With national elections looming in February or March 2005, one expert states, "The south is a battlefield that Thaksin must win."

Troubles in the South - January 11, 2003
We had been looking for any new insight into the troubles in the South. Not only is there no consensus on what is really going on, but various government officials have muddied the waters with a barrage of competing theories. There is a little perspective in this article (Crackdown 'could backfire on Bangkok', The Straits Times, January 11, 2004): Dr Surin told The Straits Times that the roots of the problems in the south were 'very much domestic and internal', and 'drastic measures will lead to further deterioration'.
Contradictory theories continue to emerge on exactly who the raiders were and what their agenda was...
'There are many groups in the south,' a participant from Pattani told The Straits Times at a discussion in a mosque here yesterday.
'There is no clear idea - even among the locals - on who is who. It is a grey area, and most people believe it is both criminal and political.'
The most persistent rumour in the southern provinces, he said, was that the weapons stolen from the arms stock- pile in Narathiwat had already been sold weeks ago and the raid was an attempt to cover up the racket which involved army officers in alliance with local bandit gangs.
Government officials, police and army officers and bandit gangs were systematically making billions of baht from the southernmost provinces by running rackets involving guns, gambling, prostitution and drugs, he said.
Indeed, the cynicism that spawns these rumours is at the root of the communication gap - referred to by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - between the authorities and locals.

Troubles in the South index page
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