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  • Review/134/06: Amnesia on Thai military junta, 27 September 2006

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  • PR/THA/03/06: ACHR welcomes US sanctions on Thai Junta, 29 September 2006

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  • The Banana Republic of Thailand: Rule of the jungle in the name of emergency, 20 July 2005
  • Southern Thailand seeks justice, not apology

    The military coup of 19 September 2006 under the leadership of Thailand's first Muslim army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin raised some hope for resolution of the insurgency in Southern Thailand.

    The military backed Prime Minister General (Retd) Surayud Chulanont pledged to make peace in the southern region a priority. Since his appointment as Prime Minister on 1 October 2006, General (Retd) Chulanont visited the Southern region three times, the last being on 16 November 2006, and apologised for Thaksin Shinawatra's hardline policies.

    The problems of Southern Thailand predate Thaksin Shinawatra and Prime Minister Chulanont failed to appreciate the fact and therefore, also failed to assuage the sentiments of the ethnic Malay minorities.

    I. Increased violence: The incidents of November 2006

    The expectation of resolution of the crisis in Southern Thailand was found to be premature. There has been a spurt of incidents of gross violations of international humanitarian laws by the armed opposition groups. Some of the incidents of November 2006 are given below:

    During the night of 4 November 2006, suspected Muslims insurgents burnt down three schools and shot and wounded a teacher in Yala province.

    On 6 November 2006, two army personnel were killed and three others wounded by a roadside bomb at Bajor village in Yala province.

    On 11 November 2006, two police personnel were reportedly shot dead in Yaha district in Yala province. The attackers fled with the policemen's guns after killing them.

    On 12 November 2006, Thongpetch Chatchamni was shot dead while his wife, Pimpa Noobankoh was critically injured in Rusoh district of Narathiwat. On the same day, Sofi Tohlooboh was killed and his brother Mahama Tohlooboh was injured in indiscriminate firing by four motorcycle-borne gunmen at a roadside tea shop in Rusoh district of Narathiwat province.

    On 14 November 2006, suspected Muslim insurgents reportedly shot dead a village volunteer guard and his wife while they were riding in a motorcycle in Pattani province.

    On 14 November 2006, a school was torched in Bannang Sata district of Yala province. Thirty-five schools in the district have been closed since then.

    On 15 November 2006, Kulthida Injumpha, an assistant principal of Lamoh school in Ruso district in Narathiwat province was gunned down by a suspected insurgent while she was travelling home on her motorcycle from school.

    On 19 November 2006, unidentified assailants shot dead a local official and two Muslim villagers at a tea shop in Narathiwat's Rangae district.

    On 20 November 2006, two persons were reportedly killed and 16 other wounded in a bomb attack at a market in Sungai Kolok, a town on the border with Malaysia.

    Security analysts have warned of deadlier attacks in the near future.

    II. The course correction: Justice, not apology

    It is not apology by politicians, especially of the military kind, which can help to resolve the crisis in Southern Thailand but justice. Asian Centre for Human Rights urges the Thai government to examine the following issues:

    a. Hold open dialogue with the insurgents

    The government of Thaksin Shinawatra refused to acknowledge alleged secret negotiations with the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) and Barisan Revolusi National (BRN).

    Since the military ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reportedly helped arrange at least two talks between the Thai government and the insurgent leaders on Malaysia's island of Langkawi in October 2006. Obviously, the talks have failed to make any breakthrough and the increase of violence in November 2006 is indicative of the same.

    There is a need for more transparency for holding talks with the insurgents, as suggested by National Reconciliation Commission. This will dispel the prevailing perceptions on the Thai authorities of not recognising the grievances of the ethnic minority Malays.

    b. Implement the recommendations of the National Reconciliation Commission

    On 28 March 2005, then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra formed 48-member National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) headed by former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun to deal with the crisis in Southern Thailand.

    On 5 June 2006, the National Reconciliation Commission submitted its final report titled, "Overcoming Violence through the Power of Reconciliation". The NRC concluded that the approaches of the government had not addressed the issue in a realistic manner and therefore led to the deterioration of the situation.

    Amongst others, the NRC proposed to set up a special "unarmed army" to engage in dialogue with militants to end violence in the restive South and the passing of the Peaceful Reconciliation in the Southern Border Provinces Act to build lasting peace in the region. The act would establish three bodies: the Peaceful Strategic Administrative Centre for Southern Border Provinces, the Southern Border Provinces Area Development Council and the Fund for Healing and Reconciliation.

    The military led administration has maintained its silence on these recommendations.

    c. Ensure justice

    Apart from regular gross human rights violations, the disappearance and subsequent murder of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit on 12 April 2004, the massacre inside the historic Krue Se Mosque on the outskirts of Pattani in Narathiwat province in which 107 persons, mostly teenagers were killed on 28 April 2004, and massacre of at least 78 Muslim protesters in the custody of the army at Tak Bai on 26 October 2004 standout as the worst cases of human rights violations since the insurgency began in January 2004.

    The government of Thailand has failed to establish any accountability for these human rights violations.

    In October 2006, A criminal court in Bangkok held defendant 1, Police Major Ngern Tongsuk guilty and sentenced him to 3 years imprisonment for robbery but acquitted Police Major Sinchai Nimbunkampong, Police Sergeant Major Chaiweng Paduang, Police Sergeant Rundorn Sithiket and Police Lieutenant Colonel Chadchai Liamsa-nguan in the murder of Somchai Neelaphaijit. As the body of Somchai Neelaphaijit could not be found, they could not be charged with murder.

    Instead of establishing accountability for the killing of 78 persons at Tak Bai, as of October 2006, 58 persons continued to be detained for participating in the peaceful protests at Tak Bai!

    III. Conclusion: Southern Thailand requires monitoring

    On 21 November 2006, Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a spokesman for the Council of National Security, stated that Thailand's coup leaders have drafted a 35-page document explaining their reasons for overthrowing former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. A white paper titled, "Facts about the Reform of Thai Politics on 19 September 2006" which was leaked to the Thai media, highlights Thaksin Shinawatra's alleged corruption and abuse of power.

    As of today, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has not been charged with corruption. The euphoria over the military takeover has already been evaporating.

    While it is easy to blame Thaksin Shinawatra for all the ills, it is the military which has been dealing with the situation in Southern Thailand since insurgency began in January 2004 and they were responsible for gross human rights violations like the Krue Se or the Tak Bai massacres. If the military led government continues with the practices, Southern Thailand may turn out to be the military's nemesis.

    Undoubtedly, the armed opposition groups in Southern Thailand have been responsible for gross violations of international humanitarian laws especially by targeting innocent civilians, teachers, Buddhist monks, educational insitutions etc. No ideology or demands can justify such violence.

    The government has the duty and legitimate right to provide safety and security of the citizens within the confines of the rule of law. However, the security forces have often been found to be responsible for gross human rights violations.

    As the situation in Southern Thailand deteriorates, violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws both by the security forces and armed opposition groups require monitoring and necessary interventions.

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