Military uses “human shield” policy in Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In the middle of March separatist gunmen attacked an army bunker next to Jaw-eye-rong Hospital in Naratiwat. During the gunfight that ensued, the separatists retreated into the hospital where they fired out of windows at the military. They then escaped through the rear of the hospital into the hills. It is thought that the hospital was the only available escape route open to them. No patients, members of the public in the building, or hospital employees were hurt.

In response to this event Suhaimee Dulasa, a former Patani student and youth leader, wrote an article saying that “both sides were crazy”.

Despite the fact that no one inside the hospital was injured, such tactics by the separatists are indefensible and risk destroying the legitimacy of the struggle for self-determination. This is the case even when all escape routes might have been blocked by the military.

Naturally Generalissimo Prayut ordered the security forces to eliminate all separatist armed groups as soon as possible. In reality there is no chance of a military solution to this war.

The Thai National Human Rights Commission was quick to condemn the gunmen who attacked the military post. This same commission has never condemned the military for staging coups and continuously destroying human rights and never condemned the lèse-majesté law.

However, unlike the various false “human rights organisations” who condemn the separatists, or those who merely condemn both sides, we must criticise the Thai military for establishing a bunker next to a hospital. In addition to this we must never forget that the violence of the oppressed can never be equated to the violence of the oppressors. The Patani fighters have a right to fight for self-determination. However their armed strategy can never lead to freedom because it excludes the majority of people and rejects the need for social movements.

Suhaimee Dulasa points out that the Thai military has a long tradition of deliberately setting up military bunkers right next to hospitals. It also establishes bunkers in markets and inside schools and Buddhist temples. This is despite the fact that they know that military check points and bunkers are the main targets for separatist attacks in this war between the Patani fighters and the Thai state.

Apart from the need to create an illusion that the military is there to “protect” the people from “separatist bandits”, one can only suspect that they are trying to defend themselves by using ordinary civilians in hospitals, schools and markets as human shields.

Not surprisingly, the internal security command claimed that military encampments next to hospitals were there to stop the separatists from attacking “soft targets”. This is a lie.

Separatists have no interest in attacking hospitals or markets. Their aim is to attack the military and the police and people collaborating with the security forces. In the past schools have been burnt down and teachers have been attacked, but this is because school education is used as an ideological weapon by the Thai state to destroy the culture and history of Patani. Changing this policy would protect schools. Military bunkers will never protect them.

Buddhist temples have been attacked for similar reasons as schools and because the military have sponsored attacks on some mosques, but also because army personnel have been recruited to become monks. This is not a war between Muslims and Buddhists, but a war between those seeking independence for Patani and the repressive Thai state. However, a number of extremist right-wing Buddhist monks are trying to stoke up hatred against Muslims. Recently the racist Burmese monk Wiratu, famous for organising pogroms against the Rohingya, visited Thailand to take part in a Buddhist jamboree.

The bottom line is that in the short term military bunkers should be moved away from hospitals, schools, markets and temples and in the longer term the military should be withdrawn from Patani altogether.