This has been going on for awhile, but you know what I don’t see? I don’t see my wife and other Buddhist in Asia declaring Buddha Jihad against these Muslims and flying to Thailand to join in an armed struggle against them. It seems of all the major world religions only Muslims act like that.
Thailand and Malaysia
In need of help to douse the flamesFeb 15th 2007 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition
Malaysia has offered help to tackle the violent separatist insurgency on their mutual border. But no end to the violence is in sight
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BOMBINGS, shootings or, more recently, al-Qaeda-style beheadings now happen almost every day in Thailand’s southern provinces. Bloodthirsty but strangely publicity-shy separatists attack symbols of Buddhist Thailand’s rule over a region whose people are mostly Muslim and ethnic-Malay. Teachers and monks, not just soldiers and police, are targets now. Muslims are also regularly murdered, either in revenge for killings of Buddhists or because the militants suspect them of collaborating with the authorities.
In the most gruesome incident of recent days, an elderly Buddhist man was beheaded in Pattani province on February 8th. His head was later found in a roadside plastic bag. A note reportedly left near his corpse said it was revenge for a grenade attack on a Muslim tea-shop. The conflict has risen and subsided several times since Thailand annexed the region, formerly a Malay sultanate, in 1902. Violence surged again in 2004, since when around 2,000 people have been killed.
When a wave of bombs hit Bangkok on New Year’s Eve, Thailand’s military government was quick to deny the insurgents had planted them. It blamed supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister deposed in last September’s coup. But one of several police squads investigating the explosions now says that a suspected southern militant was caught on camera near one of the blasts.
The violence continued unabated as Malaysia’s prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, visited Bangkok this week. Mr Badawi offered to mediate with the militants. In late 2005 Mr Badawi’s predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, already out of office, brokered talks between separatist leaders and Thai officials. But Thai ministers later contradicted themselves on whether Mr Badawi’s offer was welcomed. What the Thais do want is help sealing the border, across which southern Muslims, including militants, easily slip. Mr Badawi and his Thai counterpart, General Surayud Chulanont, agreed on measures to stop people holding both Thai and Malaysian identity cards; and Malaysia will offer training to boost Thai Muslims’ job prospects.
Mr Badawi has an incentive to help, since he clearly does not want what his foreign minister this month called a “hotbed of international terrorism” to emerge on Malaysia’s doorstep. But the treatment of Thai Muslims is a sensitive subject in northern Malaysia, where the country’s Islamist opposition is strong. So Mr Badawi will not want to risk providing political ammunition to his opponents.
Co-operation would be a welcome change from the two countries’ frequent rows over the Thai south. Mr Thaksin used to accuse Malaysia of sheltering the militants. He was furious when, in 2005, it refused to send back around 130 Thai Muslims who had fled across the border, claiming their lives were in danger.
Since the Thai coup, there have been tensions over a security barrier that the Thai generals want to erect along the border. The Malaysians were miffed at General Surayud’s claim that funds were being raised for the insurgency by extorting money from restaurants selling Thai tom yum kung soup in Malaysia.
Mr Thaksin dismissed the separatists as “bandits” and tried to crush them by military force. This led to atrocities such as the Tak Bai massacre of October 2004, when Thai soldiers gunned down at least six Muslim protesters and then killed 78 more, mostly through suffocation, by cramming them into army trucks. Last year Mr Thaksin clashed with Sonthi Boonyaratglin, his army chief (and a Muslim), who wanted talks with the rebels. Soon after, General Sonthi led the coup against Mr Thaksin.
The military government has been more conciliatory. General Surayud has apologised for the Thaksin government’s brutal mishandling of the conflict. Around 90 southerners, held for two years over the Tak Bai incident, have been released without charge. And a civilian-led agency to oversee the southern provinces and build links with local Muslim leaders—which Mr Thaksin had scrapped—has been revived.
But, as General Surayud admitted this week, this softer approach has yet to show results. He also lashed out at his fellow general, the army chief, for failing to make the south more secure, complaining that his work “does not meet our expectations.” The national police chief was sacked earlier this month, ostensibly for failing to solve the Bangkok bombings. Duncan McCargo, an academic studying the insurgency, says the Thai security forces have proved incapable of fighting it. The militants’ success means they are under little pressure to negotiate or even to spell out what exactly they want.
The obvious solution is “special autonomy” for the Thai south, like that granted to the Philippines’ Muslim south and to Indonesia’s Aceh province. But this is a distant prospect. It may be extremely hard to persuade ethnic Thais to let southerners govern themselves and to give their Malay dialect official recognition. Some Thai nationalists are even demanding that Buddhism be made the state religion in the new constitution now being drawn up. Mr McCargo says an eventual solution may demand a leader with a strong democratic mandate—as Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had with Aceh.
General Surayud is, sensibly, warning his countrymen that the road to peace will be arduous. The danger is that itchy generals tire of talking and revert to seeking military solutions, becoming once again the separatists’ best recruiting-sergeant.