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Ahimsa is the key to peace

by Sanitsuda Ekachai, Bangkok Post, Oct 27, 2005

Bangkok, Thailand -- Can monks help bridge the gap of fear and mistrust to restore peace in the deep South? The proposals from a group of high-ranking monks in Pattani do not offer much hope. Abrogate the National Reconciliation Commission, says one. Continue martial law, says another.

Pressured by the daily killings that have more frequently targeted monks, the Sangha of Pattani also named hawkish security personnel to oversee the southern problems. Phra Maha Tawil Khemakaro, chief monk of Pattani, did not hide his disdain for the NRC in an interview with the Isara News Centre: ''They talk about human rights. But when monks were killed, they never gave a thought to demand rights for monks. Are human rights only for terrorists?

''At Wat Prompasit, the temple was burned down, a monk was killed. At Wat Lak Muang, a bomb was planted at the entrance. This is no reconciliation. With whom does the commission want to reconcile? With terrorists?

''The commission only pampers the children of the opposite side,'' he charged. ''When children of innocent people are attacked, they don't get any help. Nor do the monks. In my view, the commission is definitely biased.''

When the Thaksin administration set up the NRC in March this year, many warned the commission would end up being a scapegoat for the government's ineffectiveness. How right they were.

For while the monks are unhappy with the growing violence, they chose to blame it on the peace commission - not the Thaksin administration, which has wielded nationalistic rhetoric to hide its policy mistakes.

The Pattani monks' demands for forceful measures and the end of reconciliation policy also pose other questions. Aren't monks supposed to uphold peace and non-violence? Aren't they supposed to espouse the Lord Buddha's teachings that revenge can only be overcome by abandoning revenge?

Can the public have hope in non-violence when the monks, of all people, think little of it?

Remember when the right-wing monk Phra Kittiwutho daringly declared in the 70s that it was not sinful to kill communists?

Remember how state violence consequently spiralled, culminating in the Oct 6 massacre which forced idealistic youths to join the Communist Party of Thailand?

Our problem is not only with monks failing the Buddhist teachings, but also our ethno-centric society failing to learn from history.

''For many southern Muslims, the Tak Bai violence is their October 6 massacre,'' said Phra Phaisan Visalo, a peace advocate and member of the NRC. ''Like the students back then, the state brutality pushed many young Muslims to join the underground movements. Our challenge is to win them back.''

One important lesson from the insurgency years was that it was not military might that won the communist battle. Non-violence did, reminded Phra Phaisan.

Using diplomacy to defuse conflicts at home, the late premier M R Kukrit Pramoj braved criticism to formalise diplomatic ties with mainland China, which consequently withdrew support for the CPT. In contrast, the Thaksin government chose to have a spat with the Malaysian government, which speaks volumes about its superb diplomatic skills.

To win the insurgents, the governments of Gen Kriangsak Chomanan and Gen Prem Tinsulanonda continued M R Kukrit's reconciliatory approach through the amnesty policy, which eventually helped to end the insurgency.

The Krue Se and Tak Bai violent crackdowns showed this government has learned nothing from the past. False arrests and abduction have aggravated the situation further. And although the court so far has released all the so-called terrorists for lack of evidence, the damage has become too severe. Non-violence is never an easy path, for it demands that we examine our prejudices, overcome our emotions and endure misunderstandings from all sides. The NRC wants us to learn to open our hearts and build bridges if we want peace. The Pattani monks' demands only show that many monks have some learning to do.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post.

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