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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

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By: Baiq Wardhani

Once again in the history of Thailand the military intervenes in politics. There has been 23 times military coup occurred during 74 years, the latest is the 24th coup. The last coup took place in 1991. The latest coup wad led by the army commander and coup leader Gen. Sondhi Bonyaratglin has said he would serve as de facto prime minister for two weeks and then ruling military council will choose a civilian to replace him. Sondhi promised to draw a new constitution to replace the latest 1997 constitution new civilian elections will be held in one year's time.


One key factors leading to the overthrown of the Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra was his inability to handle with problem of secessionism in the southern part of Thailand. Differing from the northern part of Thailand where Thaksin came from and admired of his generousity and charisma, Thaksin faced problems in the southern Thailand, a home of secessionist movements.

Southern Thai provinces are predominantly Malay Muslim populations. These provinces are contiguous to the predominantly Muslim states of Kelantan, Trengganu and Kedah in Malaysia and wish to join these states, hence is irredentist in nature. They grouped around three guerilla movements, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the Barisan Nasional Pembebasan Pattani (BNPP) and the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO). (Andrew Tan, Armed Rebellion in the ASEAN States, 2000)

Despite the HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s suggestion to resolve the conflict by political means, Thaksin has done a serious missteps that prompted many to accuse him of challenging the king's authority, a traditional respected leader of the Thais.

Thaksin employed heavy handed measures in resolving secessionist problem that killed thousands of separatist Moslems in three southern Thai provinces namely the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat. Thaksin’s approach to quell secessionism has been source of criticism both from within and outside Thai. The unpopularity of Thaksin’s way to control various domestic problems, including the secessionist challenge, has led Sondhi, himself a Moslem, to act despite his promise to the military reforms.

Many human rights violation broke in southern Thailand. The latest and cruelest happened in 2004 when the militants shot dead inside the historic Krue Se Mosque that killed 106 people. Attack of a mosque was a serious breached and humiliation as the mosque is a holy symbol of Pattani state. The violence shattered Thailand's reputation as a land of peace and tolerance.

According to the intelligence sources, religious leaders from Pattani and Yala had indoctrinated local youths with separatist ideology calling for the establishment of an independent Islamic state. This act put the nation in danger. However, Thaksin played down the political aspect, saying many of the dead were drug-addict teenagers and dismissed religious conflict was the root cause of the southern problem. (The Nation, 24/4/2004)

A New Hope?

Tlthough admitted that the military coup was a setback to the democratisaton process, many Islamic groups in Thailand welcomed the military overthrow of Thaksin as they see the coup could help resolve a bloody Islamic insurgency in the country. Many Moslem leaders believed that the bloody conflict could never be solved as long as Thaksin remained in power. Hence his removal gives a new hope to the secessionist issue. Coup leader Sondhi is said to be the only one who knows the real problems.

To many Thais, the new military regime is seen as a good chance to resolve a bloody Muslim insurgency in the south that has killed more than 1,700 people. Thaksin was seen as a crucial part of worsening the security in the southern Thailand. Despite the fact that the various Thai governments pay more sensitive policies to improved the quality of life among Malay communty in the southern province, the rebels continued to launch sporadic attacks. This is to show the ongoing efforts of the recognition on their ethnic, cultural and religious identity in the midst of the central government’s unpopular assimilationist policies.

During the Thaksin’s administration, the assimilationist policies went excessively. But Thaksin’s appointment to Gen. Sondhi Bonyaratglin as the Army C in C did not solve the problem. Initially, his appointment was aimed to fix the problem, but they have different view to the resolution. Conflict between them appeared when Sondhi preferred the political solution to the secessionist conflict and reflecting Sondhi’s submission to the King’s suggestion.

However, Lukman B. Lima, the vice president of the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO), an exiled in Sweden, said thet he will continue to fight until full independence is attained in Pattani. The restless Moslem rebels will not stop fight as they see the struggle for an independent state as a holy war.

Yet, the rebels must be aware that Thaksin still have a strong support and his Thai Rak Thai party might get another victory in the next general election. Thaksin won the latest election thanks to the support from the farmers and countrymen. For many people, Thaksin is remain perceived as a symbol of wealth, especially those in eastern part of the country.

The appointment of military-backed prime Minister, Surayud Chulanont, has given a new hope for peaceful settlement. Surayud promised to seek political solution to the problem and to make the issue as his major priority. Despite continuing violence in Narathiwat district, Surayud sent a good gesture by visiting Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta to have dialogue with his counterparts, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Surayud spoke about his personal strategy, that, "So, that's the way I will be trying to present ourselves, you know, by way of talking to them. I will explain (the situation) to the Thai people in the south," he said. (Bernama 18/10/2006) Surayud traveled to the region, Mr. Surayud traveled to the region and apologized to its mostly ethnic Malay Muslim inhabitants for the hard-line approach of his predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a September military coup. Mr. Surayud has offered to talk to the insurgents and apologized to its mostly ethnic Malay Muslim inhabitants for the hard-line approach of his predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, also offered to talk to the insurgents. (VOA News 21/10/2006)

Malaysia is more than important neighbour to leave behind the peaceful talk. Since the beginning of the conflict, Thai-Malay border serve a zone of refuge for the Southern Thais and a save havens for both the secessionist rebels and refugees.

Surayud also asking help from Indonesia’s muslims leaders to help to end vioelence in his country. He expressed hope that the Indonesian muslim leadres would help to bridge diffeences between the Thai government and the rebels and to build better understanding between them. Recent peace deals between the RI government and GAM has inspired Surayud to do the same thing. Thus, Indonesia has a potency to help the government of Thai to find a peaceful conflict resolution. As a friendly neighbour who shared the same experience in secessionism and its status as the largest muslim coutry in the region, Indonesia has a moral ground to help the Thai government, only if it is asked by the Thai government. Indonesian experience in mediating secessionism conflict between the Philippines government and the Moro rebels would also worth considered. The stability of the southeast Asia region will be very much depend on the national resilience of each country in the region. The role of Indonesia would be constructive if indonesia can play the role properly.


Surayud’s approach to the seccesionism issue in southern of Thailand is promising to the future of many moslem Thais. No other country would allow its region to breakaway. The problem of secessionism in southern Thai has an international dimension, in which its setellement cannnot be easily resolved without coperation with its neighbouring country, Malaysia, in particular. However, Surayud’s intention to use the RI-GAM model of conflict resolution, in one side is a positive thing. On the other side, it would be hard without the good will from both sides.

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