Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Thaksin can learn from Indonesia

The Jakarta Post

Thursday, 25 August 2005

By Thang D. Nguyen

JAKARTA—It may sound like a paradox, but there is a lesson about peace that Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra should learn from Indonesia and apply to the conflict in southern Thailand. On Aug. 15, two days before Indonesia's 60th Independence Day, the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a peace agreement in Helsinki.

Materialized after five rounds of talk, the agreement allows the Acehnese to have economic and political autonomy, to the extent that they may form local political parties, with Jakarta withdrawing the Indonesian military's (TNI) operation in the province.

If implemented successfully, this peace deal could end the three-decade long war between the Indonesian government and GAM, who had been fighting for full independence from Jakarta, and bring about peace in Aceh -- which was hit hardest during the Asian tsunami last year.
To make it work, both Jakarta and GAM have to honor the agreement that they signed in Helsinki.

This means that GAM really has to put down its weapons for once and for all, and Jakarta has to abide by the agreed cease-fire and allow the autonomy process to start in Aceh. Thus, if either party violates this agreement one way or another, all the peace-building efforts so far will be in vain. And, if this happened, war would return.

While we hope that both Jakarta and GAM will succeed with the Helsinki pact, it can serve as an example for Thailand, which is facing a similar challenge with Muslim-Thai separatists in the south.

Since last January, when assailants attacked a military camp in southern Thailand and cleaned out its armory, about 800 Thais have died in this conflict.

The most condemnable bloodshed, however, took place on Oct. 25 last year when 78 Muslim-Thai protesters were arrested and suffocated to death while being transported in police trucks.
"This is typical," said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra when asked about reports of scores dead in this massacre. "It's about bodies made weak from fasting. Nobody hurt them."

It can only be hoped that Prime Minister Thaksin's knowledge of postmortem forensics has improved since he made this infamous statement. But, alas, he has not softened his violence-based approach to dealing with the conflict in the south, which doesn't seem to get better as time goes by.

To be fair, however, Thaksin has met with Muslim leaders from other countries, namely Indonesia, to seek their advice on how to solve the southern problem. He has also put together a team of experienced and able Thais, such as former foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan, to work on it.

Unfortunately, this team seems ineffective because -- being the autocrat that he is -- Thaksin still calls all the shots when it comes to the southern conflict, or everything else in Thailand for that matter. He sees and approaches it the same way that US President George W. Bush -- whom he admires a lot -- does terrorism.

Obviously, Thaksin's way of dealing with such a multi-dimensional and complex issue as the southern conflict is not working. This is because he is trying to solve this problem with military forces thinking that it will be corrected instead of finding out what its root causes are and treating them with appropriate, preventive measures.

To be sure, the Malay-Muslims in the south have been, and still are, the minority or "underdog" group. They make up about 2.3 million people of Thailand's 63 million population, the majority of whom are Buddhist. Over a century ago, the five southern provinces belonged to the Muslim kingdom of Pattani, which was "annexed" in 1902 by Siam, as Thailand was known then.

The fact is that the discontent among Muslim Thais in the south has been fed by the poor economic opportunities in the region; their distinct culture, history, language and religion from the Buddhist Thai majority; and the human rights violations they have been subject to by Thai troops and police.

This is what Prime Minister Thaksin is not accepting as the truth.

Now, the question remains, what to do to bring peace to the south?

First, Prime Minister Thaksin should admit that he has been wrong with his heavy-handed handling of the southern conflict.

Like an alcoholic who is trying to quit drinking, this first step is most crucial because, if he keeps thinking that he has been doing the right things all this time, he will keep escalating the violence the south and, thereby, worsen the situation on the ground.

Second, as the Indonesians have done with the Acehnese, Prime Minister Thaksin should encourage talks between Bangkok and representatives of the Pattani region that can lead to a peace agreement.

These talks, which can take place in another country and be mediated by a third party, will allow Bangkok and the leadership of the Pattani region to put on the table their needs or demands that must be mutually met, so that peace may come to the south.

This part is quite challenging in the sense that, unlike GAM in Aceh, no individual leader or organization in the south has claimed the leadership to represent the people of the south. It is, however, doable if Bangkok can show its willingness and ability to hold talks with representatives from the south.

Finally, if a peace pact can ever be made between Bangkok and the south, both the Thaksin government and the leadership of the south -- whoever it may be -- must carry out the terms of peace that are mutually agreed.

Peace in southern Thailand is possible. But, it won't be won with violence. Rather, it will require the Thai government to win the hearts and minds of the people in the south. But most importantly, peace is only possible when it is honored.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist (whose writing can be read at Currently, he is editing a book on Thailand.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was born in southern Thailand and can not agree with your article in Jakarta post today. We have been living together in peace for long time. Outsiders were the mastermine behind all these unrest including you and some newspaper who know nothing about my hometown.

12:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous post. You write well, but it is about things you know nothing about. And that's dangerous. It seems you are just doing your job as an image consultant for the Indonesian Government and your articles have no substance.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous JESDA KATAVETIN said...

The Jakarta Post

Opinion and Editorial - Letters

September 03, 2005

Thai Embassy clarifies

I refer to the article of Thang D. Nguyen titled Thaksin can learn from Indonesia that appeared in the Aug. 25 edition of The Jakarta Post, making an analogy between problems in the southern provinces of Thailand and Aceh.

It is to my deep regret that the said article is not well balanced in presenting the facts and is based on emotional rather than logical analysis.

Therefore I feel obliged to clarify the points that may lead to public misperception in Indonesia about the situation in the southern provinces of Thailand and how the Thai government is addressing it.

We, Thai people, always believe that violence begets more violence. Therefore, the need for a peaceful solution to conflict is well embedded in the hearts and minds of Thai people to the extent that it has become their way of life.

The new round of violence in the southern provinces, which started in January 2004, is a result of a complicated mixture of factors. It is no secret that the area has been subject to a threat by separatists for quite some time, especially during the 1970s and 1980s.

To assume that the root cause of the problem in southern Thailand is a demand for independence is awfully wrong. The 70 percent turnout in the last general election in February 2005 in the five southernmost provinces clearly showed what the majority of people want.

The Thai government is fully committed to finding a peaceful solution and addressing the problem at its root cause, which lies in the lack of proper education, social injustice and uneven development.

With the aforementioned reasons, the analogy between Aceh and the southern provinces of Thailand is way off the mark and not based on complete facts. The supposedly analytical supposition that since "no individual or organization has claimed the leadership to represent the people of the south, unlike the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Aceh, it is doable that Bangkok can show willingness and ability to hold talks with representatives from the south" is so superficial to say the least.

It simply ignores at least two important facts that there is nothing like the south vs. Bangkok as suggested in the article and people in the south of Thailand, like other parts of the country, have their rightful representatives in parliament who work on their behalf.

JESDA KATAVETIN Minister Counsellor (Political Affairs) Royal Thai Embassy Jakarta

9:33 PM  
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^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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7:37 PM  

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