Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Self-Rule for Thai Muslim Provinces Needs Military Support

The three southern provinces in Thailand namely Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani are Muslim-populated provinces. But the restiveness of these three Thai provinces has resulted in people being killed every day. Recently, a total of five were killed. To the Thai Government these three Muslim populated provinces have become the three most dangerous provinces. But what is most frustrating to the Thai Government is that until today the Thai central government in Bangkok still does not seem to be able to come out with an effective measure to resolve the violence in these southern provinces.

Autonomy Rule
When Malaysian Prime Minister Najib accepted an interview with Thai media, Najib has expressed his view on how he felt about the chaotic situation in these three Muslim populated provinces. Najib suggested that the restive situation in southern Thailand be resolved by given these Muslim-populated provinces some form of autonomy rule.

Najib's suggestion has received favorable response from Thai Prime Minister Abhisit. Since both the Malaysian and Thai national leaders hold quite similar opinion on how to resolve the restiveness in southern Thailand, this is perhaps the very first positive step toward rebuilding lasting peace and order in south Thailand.

Chaotic and Restive Situation
However, as we look at the past history of these three Muslim-populated provinces, the chaotic and restive situation in these provinces are but historical legacy of problems cumulated since 1902. Before 1902, the three southern provinces of Thailand belonged to the Malay Sultanate of Patani. Late on the then Siam (former Thailand) Kingdom occupied these three Muslim populated southern provinces and added them into the map of Siam.

The main reason was that the then Siam King wanted to create a buffer zone between the Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand) and the British Malaya (now Malaysia). But although the Siam Dynasty took over these three provinces, the Siam authority did not treat the local Muslim residents well. Instead, they implemented assimilation policies and forced Muslims there to learn Thai and Buddhist ethics. Such policies have since planted the seeds of hatred of Muslims toward the Thai Government and started flames of unrest until today.

High-Handed Policies
From the period when the Siam or Thai government took over the rule of Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani until the 1960's, there was hardly a time the local residents there could really enjoy a moment of peace. But the Thai government was still able to control the security situation in these three southern provinces then. But from 1970's onward, the relationship between the local Muslims and the Thai government, specially their relationship with the Thai military and police had become more and more strained as days went by.

By 2004, when former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin wanted to crack down the support that the Muslim population had given to his political rival party the Democrats in these three provinces, he began to vigorously suppress the local Muslims there. Such high-handed policies by the Thaksin government had triggered violent revenges and responses that have become uncontrollable until today.

Initiating Peace Plan
Having said that, we do note that there were also times when the Thai Government did try to find a way to resolve its problems in southern Thailand. In 1980, when General Prem Tinsulanond (the current Thai royal adviser) was the Thai Prime Minister, this pragmatic Thai premier began to implement his 'Southern Peace Plan' to allow the Muslims to take part in politics and to promote economic development in the Muslim provinces.

General Prem's 'Southern Peace Plan' did reduce the violent incidents in southern Thailand and allow the southern Thai provinces to enjoy a period of peace until Thaksin became the Prime Minister.

Tough Time Ahead
Having a good understanding of the political and historical background of the three Muslim populated provinces in southern Thailand is the first step to resolve the restiveness in southern Thailand.

However, the political situation remains a complicated one in Thailand. Although Thai Prime Minister Abhisit has the willingness to resolve the chaotic and restive situation in southern Thailand, but everybody who follows Thai politics knows that the Thai Government is under the strong influence of the Thai military force. In order for some form of autonomy for the these Muslim population southern provinces in Thailand to happen, the most crucial factor will have to depend on how strong the Thai military is willing to support Prime Minister Abhisit's idea in allowing some self-rule government be established in southern Thailand.

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