Middle path needed in Thailand's south, PM told

Bangkok Post, Nov 19, 2004

Bangkok, Thailand -- Peace advocates have asked the government to use ``extreme caution'' in dealing with violence in the South, warning that mishandling the problem will only sow hatred and widen the conflict.

The peace workers, from the Peace Strategies Committee, yesterday met Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for the first time since the committee's appointment in 2002.

The meeting was seen as Mr Thaksin's immediate response to calls by Their Majesties the King and Queen for an end to troubles which have plagued predominantly Muslim Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces since January.

On Wednesday, the King told newly-appointed police and military generals that the violence in the deep South witnessed by the Queen during her two-month stay in Narathiwat should not have happened in the first place.

The King said if the police and military worked well together, troubles would be alleviated. If not, Thailand could be doomed, he said.

"A collapsing country means its people cannot live a happy life and lack safety. "The task of building and safeguarding peace belongs to the police and military.

"Even when they are not carrying weapons, they must keep in mind their duties of keeping peace, order and security of the country.

"If people can live happily and peacefully, that means the police and military have done a perfect job,'' the King said.

The King's advice came a day after the Queen made an emotional plea for Thais to unite in bringing the southern violence to an end.

A source said the committee suggested Mr Thaksin and his government prove they had heeded Their Majesties' calls by listening to opinions from all sides, and cooperate with other people in bringing peace back to the South.

The government must take ``the middle path'' _ peaceful means _ in working towards achieving peace and reconciliation in the deep South.

It must also implement peaceful measures that could pull the country out of the crisis and show victims of the violence in the deep South that it really cared for their well-being, the committee source said.

The committee, a unit under the National Security Council, is chaired by former NSC deputy chief Pichai Rattanapol and includes dedicated peace workers such as Chaiwat Satha-anan and Mark Tamthai as its members.

Mr Thaksin said the panel had passed on several useful peace-oriented measures, which the Defence and Interior ministries and the NSC would now consider.

Mr Thaksin, who often plays the nationalist card, said he disagreed with any move to whip up nationalism.

He was also interested in a proposal that a model village where people from different cultures live happily and peacefully together be set up.

Mr Thaksin pleaded for public patience, saying the southern situation would improve soon as the picture had become clearer about who caused the unrest and for what reason.

Mr Thaksin, however, remained non-committal about a suggestion he call a joint Senate-House meeting to discuss ways to solve southern problems, saying he had to attend the Apec meeting in Chile until Nov 23.

That is also the last meeting day of the upper house in this parliamentary session, while the lower house will have its last meeting on Nov 25.

If necessary, a special parliamentary meeting could still be called any time, he said.

Mr Thaksin joined students and government officials in folding paper birds to be sent to the South on Dec 5 as a show of the nation's concerns for southern people yesterday.

On the right wing, he wrote: "All Thais love peace and care for you'', and on the left wing:

"Thais always love and protect their motherland. We will not let anyone steal any part from us.''

Mr Thaksin said he was sorry to hear that former prime minister Chuan Leekpai had said that even if paper crows were folded, that could not solve southern problems.

"Did Khun Chuan really say that? Oh my God,'' he said.

No violent incidents occurred in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat yesterday, for the first time in several months, after Their Majesties had called for peace in that region.

In Pattani, Southern Border Provinces Peace-building Command director Sirichai Tunyasiri met the governors of the southernmost provinces and security officials and asked them to follow the royal advice that the southern situation be handled with care.

Gothom Arya, another peace advocate, said Mahidol University, the NSC, King Prajadipok's Institute, Thai Health Promotion Foundation and Local Development Institute Foundation (LDI) had drafted a three-year plan for rebuilding a peaceful South through peaceful means, for the government to consider.

The plan involved setting up no-killing zones, and promotion of local people's participation in ending the violence, he said. It also urged the government to reach out to local communities to promote mutual understanding, introduce community policing and increase public awareness of different cultures.