Thailand's Deep South: Anand, monks exchange words

The Nation, November 12, 2005

Pattani, Thailand -- Senior Pattani clergy continue to argue NRC biased in favour of militants Attempts by the National Reconciliation Commission to address the complaints of Buddhist monks in the restive South that it sympathises with militants at the expense of Buddhists, led to heated exchanges yesterday between senior monks and the NRC chairman.

Anand Panyarachun met the leader of the Pattani Sangha Council, Phra Udom Thammakani, and other senior monks to discuss the commission?s role to restore peace to the southernmost provinces.

Monks in Pattani last month called for the dissolution of the commission, saying it has failed to contain the region?s violence and sometimes speaks in favour of militants.

Anand explained that the violence was mostly caused by conflict between local Muslims and the government, while Buddhists have no problem with the authorities. This leads the commission to pay much more attention to Muslims.

?Of course Buddhists have fears for their safety, as many are victims of the violence. But it is the government?s duty to provide security for the people,? Anand said.

?Furthermore, Buddhists feel good about the Buddhist-dominated government, while Muslims - who badly need justice - have no trust in the government,? he added. ?We see that as a problem, so we give more emphasis to Muslims.?

Phra Udom, who earlier called for the dissolution of the NRC, stood by his position, saying Buddhist monks have to speak out on behalf of victims because no agency is protecting them. Some agencies have a bias against Buddhists, he said.

Anand argued that his commission had no bias against followers of any religion. In fact, a majority of the NRC?s members are Buddhists.

Another senior monk, Phra Kru Pipat, said Buddhist laymen and two monks - one from Chaiyaphum and another from Nakhon Si Thammarat - on the NRC were not residents of the deep South and did not know the real situation there.

?They don?t know how local monks suffer from the violence. Many of us are killed, even in the temples. Of course ustads [Islamic religious teachers] are killed - but have you ever seen them killed in their mosques?? he said to Anand.

The monks? questions went on. ?Who knows who is militant?? ?The NRC is seeking reconciliation between whom and whom??

Anand replied that even PM Thaksin Shinawatra did not know.