The Thai State is wrong to involve Buddhist monks with soldiers

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The bomb attack on Buddhist monks in Sai Bury in the South is a terrible act. So is the Thai State’s use of death squads, police and soldiers, to kill local Muslim Malay activists who seek independence from Thailand. The use of armed force by Thailand to enforce colonial rule in Patani for hundreds of years is also something which we must condemn.

When considering the details of the recent Sai Bury attack on Buddhist monks, who were “being protected” by soldiers, it is worth remembering that the policy of involving monks with soldiers was harshly criticised by Ajarn Chaiwat Satha-Anand a few years ago. He warned that it amounted to the militarisation of Buddhist monks in an area where Thai soldiers were regarded as oppressors. What made matters worse was that the army tried to encourage soldiers to become monks in Patani. It seems that the chickens have now come home to roost.

Instead of hiding behind soldiers, Buddhist monks who wish to perform their religious duties should join up with Muslim religious leaders and walk with them in the community. The conflict in Patani is not a religious conflict between people of different ethnic traditions. It is a struggle for freedom by the Muslim Malays against the Thai State.

The chorus of condemnation of the Sai Bury bombing by so-called “Human Rights” and various religious organisations will not result in any solution since they call on the armed forces of the oppressive Thai State to “protect” the population. Remember that these same security forces, under the command of General Prayut and others, are responsible for killing pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok and also for destroying freedom and democracy by staging military coups.

The Thai State and its armed forces are the real source of the conflict in Patani, not the solution. If peace, freedom and security are to be established the troops must be withdrawn and the local people of all ethnicity or religion should determine their own future. There should be no conditions attached to such discussions. The centralised, unitary Thai State must be scrapped. People should be free to choose independence, autonomy or to remain with Thailand.

The military junta is an obstacle to peace in Patani because of its insistence on using military might rather than democratic politics in order to “solve” the rebellion. Without overthrowing the junta we cannot begin to establish peace.

As for the rebels who have taken up arms against the Thai State, we should sympathise with them. They have suffered oppression and violence at the hands of the military for years. Yet the armed struggle is a dead-end. Not only does it risk undermining legitimacy when civilians are killed, but it also has no hope of beating the Thai military. The answer lies in building a mass movement of local people to struggle for freedom. This is what local students in Patani have been trying to do for some time.