Worsening violence afflicting three predominantly Malay-Muslim southern provinces of Thailand is not about religion but about basic human rights, Church people and activists say. “There is great dissatisfaction among local (Muslim) people due to actions of government officials – arbitrary detention, torture and worse. When they are proven innocent, they were released without compensation,” said Sarawut Prathumraj, former board member of the catholic bishops' Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace. Government officers “who violate the local people's human rights seem to enjoy impunity,” he charged, adding that the situation is complex. “For the local mafia selling illegal products, the almost daily bombings and killings and tension cover up their activities,” added Sarawut, who now works with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). Kalaya Eaiwsakul, a coordinator of Diocese Social Action Center of Surat Thani diocese, said in recent weeks there have been almost daily reports of car bombings or shootings or killing of Buddhist monks on alms rounds. Nobody seems to be able to stop this despite the presence of tens of thousands of army troops and government-backed militia groups. “The government has really failed in this issue,” said Kalaya, a Buddhist. A March 8 closed-door meeting of NGO activists in Kuala Lumpur affirmed that religion is not the source of the troubles in the southern Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. “Thailand has freedom of religion. The Thai government has nothing against Islam or Muslims. But what is happening is the denial of the fundamental rights of the individual as well as the right to self-determination of the Malay-Muslim people,” said an activist who works for a Malaysia-based relief agency. The activist, who only wanted to be known as “Nua,” pointed out that the Malay-Muslims of southern Thailand have been denied expression of their identity and culture, and usage of their language. They have also been losing their traditional lands and local fishermen have been losing their livelihood as fishing concessions were granted to Bangkok-based businesspeople. Since 2004, the insurgency as well as government and military heavy-handedness have claimed 4,500 lives and left more than 8,000 children orphaned, Nua and other activists said. In the same period, more than 15,000 local people have been arrested and detained, and torture, disappearance and killing of activists and sympathizers have been common. Nua said at present 60,000 army troops are stationed in the region, in addition to another 60,000 military-backed militias. “Guns and drugs have flooded the region. Some Buddhist temples and government clinics and schools serve as temporary military camps, creating a very tense situation.” An activist who only wanted to be known as “Wan” said there is no serious attempt to solve the problem because of vested interests. “For example, damaged buildings and infrastructure mean business opportunities for certain people. One dead body means one more business opportunity. Nua added: “More security problems mean more budget channeled to the military.” On the way forward, Nua said activists have to work with Thai NGOs and civil movements within the scope of the Thai constitution. TH13607.1644
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