Jakarta/Brussels, 15 March 2007: Six
months after the coup which overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawata,
Thailand still faces a serious security threat in the Muslim South and
a real risk of communal violence.
Southern Thailand: The Impact of the Coup,*
the latest report from the International Crisis Group, explains that
the dilemma now is how to respond to the threat in a way that includes
but goes beyond law enforcement and leads to political negotiations.
The report examines the interim government’s efforts
to ease tensions in the Muslim South amid an insurgency that, as the
massacre of nine passengers on a minibus on 14 March showed, is
becoming increasingly brutal. Prime Minister Surayud’s conciliatory
gestures are a welcome change from the heavy-handedness of the Thaksin
government but are unpopular outside the South, while insurgents have
increased their violence in an attempt to weaken the peace efforts.
“The government has to balance the need for
stepped-up security measures with protection of human rights and
efforts to address Malay Muslim grievances”, says Crisis Group Analyst
Francesca Lawe-Davies. “With only six months to go before elections,
there are clear limits to what this government can achieve, but it
should use its remaining time to lay the groundwork for a serious
political effort to bring peace to the region”.
Coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin and Surayud
have acknowledged the importance of dialogue but have not been able to
identify the insurgency’s real leaders. Even if they could do so, they
would still have to face the Thai public’s hostility to negotiations.
Ultimately, only a government with a democratic mandate will be able to
take meaningful steps toward talks.
Despite its limited mandate, the interim government
should take a number of steps to undercut militant claims the
government is trying to destroy Malay culture and Islam, by reforming
the education system and allowing the local dialect to be used as the
language of instruction.
Without engaging in the kind of indiscriminate
crackdowns favoured by Thaksin, the government must also reinforce
security by patrolling the areas controlled by militants. It should not
give in to popular pressure to release suspects accused of violent
crimes before they face trial. But it must also begin to rebuild trust
with southerners by providing justice for past abuses.
“The government needs to continue its efforts to
establish dialogue with the rebel leaders who control the insurgency”,
says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “At
the same time it has to open a debate in Thai society to explain the
need for negotiations, so an agreement can be reached in the future”.
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601
To contact Crisis Group media please click here
*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org
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