Tag Archives: Patani

Military Junta incapable of bringing peace to Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Following an ambush by Patani freedom fighters, which resulted in the deaths of two army rangers and injuries to another 4 at Nong Jik, Patani, on 11th September 2018, Lieutenant General Piyawat Narkwanit, commander of the 4th regional army, declared Nong Jik to be a “Controlled Area”. He also stated that they may bring charges against relatives (mothers, fathers, wives etc.) of anyone arrested for the ambush. So far 8 so-called suspects have been detained. The local villages have also been surrounded and locked down while everyone has to register their weapons, boats and vehicles.

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Lieutenant General Piyawat Narkwanit

This heavy-handed response by the military is typical of the junta’s mentality and a gross abuse of human rights. Collective punishment of families and communities by the military for the actions of individuals is similar to what the Nazis carried out in occupied Europe or what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. It is a form of terrorism.

The good news is that human rights lawyers and young student activists from Patani have come out to oppose such measures taken by the military. However, a number of Thai nationalist groups, including one Buddhist organisation, have tried to pressure the police to take action against the students. Patani University has also tried to put pressure on them to stop their so-called anti-state activities. Given the repressive nature of the Thai state, it is impossible to defend human rights without carrying out anti-state activities.

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The fact of the matter is that the war against the Thai State is a direct result of years of oppression and human rights abuses by various Thai governments. [See https://bit.ly/2xFce7Y ]. The military junta continue to insist that the military should play a leading role in “solving” this war. They pretend that they want to bring about peace, yet their only solution is to hold talks with representatives of the insurgents with an aim to getting them to surrender. No political solutions are on the table.

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There can be no peace unless the Thai military are withdrawn from the occupation of Patani, human rights abuses are put right and the local people of all ethnicities are allowed to freely discuss how to move forward to self-determination. Peace can only be achieved by all-inclusive political discussions led by civilians. This is not something that the military are prepared to contemplate. [See https://bit.ly/1QCoOWs ]

Meanwhile a new political party of Patani Muslims has been set up. The Prachachart Party is made up of established mainstream politicians from the area. Former policeman Tawee Sordsong, one of the founding members of this party, recent gave an interview where he stressed the need to accept multiculturalism in society, devolve political power to local communities and promote human rights. The party proposes reforming the police to ensure that it has a different structure from the military. Yet, the party does not advocate withdrawal of the military from the region or criticise the use of security laws or martial law. It merely wants troops confined to barracks and local civilians to have more say and increased political participation in security matters. Apart from advocating multicultural policies in the whole of Thailand, the party has little to say about other social and political issues such as the need for a welfare state, workers’ rights or the removal of the military from politics.

The Future Forward Party is committed to cutting down the influence of the military in politics and on the issue of Patani it proposes that the military should withdraw from the area and that the future of Patani be determined by civilians. [See also https://bit.ly/2tZG5JK ]

However, both the Future Forward Party and the Prachachart Party do not envisage the possibility of independence for Patani, if a majority of locals want this. They are not prepared to challenge the conservative nationalist view about Thailand as an “indivisible nation state”. However both parties have tentatively talked about some form of regional autonomy.

As for Pua Thai, the party is still stuck in the past with little to say about Patani.

Local mass social movements in Patani will have to mobilise to push for a more progressive political agenda for ending the war. To be successful they need to also concern themselves with issues other than Patani in order to build alliances with progressive groups outside the region.

Further reading: https://bit.ly/2eBAzDjand https://bit.ly/2bemah3 .

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Mafia style military rule ensures impunity

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Last year I reported that soldiers in Chiang Mai shot down Chaiyapoom Pasae, a 17 year old Lahu activist. This killing was committed in cold blood. A villager who witnessed the event, which took place at a military check point, told Thai PBS news channel that soldiers dragged Chaiyapoom out of his car and beat him up, stamping on his face. They fired two warning shots and then deliberately let him go. While he was running away they shot him dead. [See https://bit.ly/2o4Wq99 ].

After many attempts by lawyers to get the military to release the CCTV footage of the event, which they repeatedly claimed they had, it now appears that the footage has been “lost”. This is despite the fact that a senior military officer, General Wijuk Siribanpot, commander of the 3rd Region Army gave a televised interview saying that if he had been at the scene he would have switched his gun to automatic mode and riddled Chaiyapoom with bullets because “he had drawn a knife and attempted to throw a bomb” at soldiers. How would he know what happened, given that there is now no physical evidence available?

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The “loss” of CCTV footage is no surprise and it paves the way for the continued impunity enjoyed by the thugs in uniform.

Another recent news item reported that Sawai Tong-om, a pro-democracy red shirt protestor, who was shot and seriously injured by troops in 2009, has had his legal case against the military appointed Abhisit government and the military overturned. Initially the courts awarded him damages of more than a million baht. But the court of appeal overturned this ruling, and worse still, ruled that he must pay the military’s legal expenses. His property has now been seized and sold for this purpose.

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So not only do security forces and their political lackeys enjoy impunity for state crimes, the victims have to pay for legal fees.

Witnesses to military killings are intimidated in order to silence them. “Wan” or Nattathida Meewangpla, was a volunteer paramedic who witnessed the military killings of red shirts at Wat Patum in 2010. Because she was a key witness to this event, she was fitted up with terrorism and lèse-majesté charges by the military and she has been languishing in jail for the past 3 years.

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Nattathida Meewangpla

Of course, this kind of thing happens all the time over the situation in Patani, where innocent people end up being abused and jailed while security forces go unpunished. Fa-ist Mayu, a community volunteer from the NUSANTARA foundation, is the latest person to be arrested on questionable grounds by the security forces for a shooting incident in Naratiwat.

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Fa-ist Mayu

Many Malay Muslim students, studying a Ramkamhaeng Open University fall foul of indiscriminate arrests by the police and military. They are then often subjected to torture in order to confess crimes they did not commit.

No politician, military officer or policeman has ever been punished for the disappearance of the lawyer Somchai or the massacre of unarmed civilians at Takbai.

The entire situation makes it feel like the country is being run by the Mafia, with a total lack of justice and no one at the top ever being accountable to the public.

Meanwhile it has been revealed that over the last 5 years the Mafia Bosses in Uniform have spent 1,061,171 million baht on the ever-increasing military budget…..

 

Future Forward Party fails to move beyond the mainstream

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

All Thai mainstream political parties in the past have had rich businessmen or military generals heading the party. Many have retired military officers in leadership positions. At the general meeting of the Future Forward Party a few weeks ago, the executive committee members of the party were elected.

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Not surprisingly, business tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was elected as leader of the party and former academic Piyabutr Saengkanokkul was elected as secretary general. Among the executive committee were two other business people, a number of academics and a couple of NGO activists. One of the NGO activists specialises in labour issues. Most of these people have a track record of holding anti-dictatorship views. However, without a serious attempt to build a pro-democracy social movement outside parliament, all talk about scrapping the military constitution and erasing the legacy of dictatorship will just be hot air.

What is worrying is that one of the deputy leaders of the party is retired Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompoo, a former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council. He was removed from office by Generalissimo Prayut after the coup. But his association with the NSC is worrying because all former governments, especially military juntas, have always stressed “national security” over freedom and democracy.

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Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchompoo wrote a recent column in a national newspaper about Patani. He said that what was needed was a softer approach by the state, without human rights abuses. But he never mentioned the right to self-determination for the people of Patani, a need to prosecute state officials who had ordered the murdering of Malay Muslims, nor the fact that negotiations between the state and freedom fighters ought to be a civilian matter, rather than being led by the military. His position is the same as the “doves” in the Thai military. It affirms that the Thai nation state cannot grant independence or be divided. This is different from initial comments from a Future Forward Party member some months ago about the need for autonomy in Patani.

From the makeup of the executive committee, one can see that this is no “grass roots” party of the 99% as there are no real representatives of organised labour or small farmers. It is a middle-class party for the middle-class which supports the free-market.

To be fair to them, none of the party activists apart from Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, ever claimed that the party would be a party of the working class and small farmers, who make up the vast majority of the population. But Piyabutr and another academic made erratic claims comparing the party to the new left parties in Europe.

Of course, we can only guess what the party’s policies will be from the makeup of the executive committee and from what some of the leaders have said. However, if the party’s manifesto does not include the need for a welfare state funded through high taxes on the rich and businesses, a commitment to repeal the lèse majesté law, a commitment to the right to choose to have free and safe abortions, a commitment to raise the minimum wage according to demands of the unions and to rewrite the labour laws which restrict the actions of unions, and a commitment to self-determination for the people of Patani, the party will merely be a mainstream, neo-liberal, anti-military party.

There is still an urgent need to build a left-wing political party of the working class and peasantry.

 

A Step forward in Policy towards Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

It is very encouraging to see that the policy of the “Future Forward Party” towards Patani has signs of being more progressive than government policies in the past.

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Premprapat Palitaponkarnpim, one of the party’s spokespersons has stated that the autonomy proposals for Patani, originally suggested by Haji Sulong, more than 60 years ago, should be an important party of party policy. However, it is unclear how many of Haji Sulong’s proposals will actually be adopted and there are already signs that Premprapat has started to backtrack under pressure from the conservatives.

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Haji Sulong was “disappeared” by the right-wing military dictatorship in 1955. He proposed the following 7 point plan which may need some updating.

  1. That the four southern provinces be governed as a unit, with a Muslim governor. For today’s world we should interpret this as meaning a governor who is a local citizen.
  2. That for the first seven years of the school curriculum, Malay be allowed as the language of instruction. Of course there is nothing to stop Thai speakers being taught in Thai in other schools.
  3. That all taxes collected in the four southern provinces be expended there.
  4. That 85 percent of the government officials be local Malays. If this corresponds to the proportion of the population that is Malay today, this would be a good proposal.
  5. That Malay and Thai be used together as the languages of government. This kind of proposal has been opposed by conservatives like General Prem Tinsulanon in the past. But it is standard practice in Switzerland, Canada and even the United Kingdom.
  6. That the provincial Islamic committees have authority over the practice of Islam. That is just devolving religious powers. But Muslim citizens in Patani should also be free to practice their religion in the way they choose.
  7. That the Islamic judicial system be separated from the provincial court system. Some Islamophobes have claimed that this would lead to gay people being caned. This is just nonsense. What it means is that citizens could choose whether to come under Islamic courts or secular courts. What is more, caning is a regular punishment in non-Islamic Singapore.

Recognising and respecting the local culture and promoting self-rule, are important proposals towards building peace. However, these proposals need to be fleshed out and there are other important issues that also need to be considered.

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Firstly, the military and para-military police need to be withdrawn from the region because at present they are an occupying force that is responsible for much of the violence and they are an obstacle to peace. The military should also be excluded from playing a dominant role in any peace negotiations. On this important issue, it is encouraging that the “Future Forward Party” is committed to reducing the political role of the military, although they have said nothing about this in the context of Patani. However, we will have to see whether they can really succeed in cutting down the influence of the military.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has suggested a separation between religion and the state and an end to state sponsorship of Buddhism. This is fine and should be supported, but it will not solve the war in Patani because it isn’t about Muslims and Buddhists killing each other. It is about the repression from the Thai state.

There was no need for Thanathorn to apologise for this proposal after being criticised by Buddhist extremists. It would make Buddhist citizens throughout Thailand free to practice their religion in a manner of their own choosing. This proposal is not contradictory to what Premprapart has suggested in any way either. The two sets of ideas help to redress the imbalance between the various beliefs in society. In the context of Patani the Muslim way of life has for too long been oppressed.

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One worrying factor is that when Premprapat was asked about how far the party’s policies on Patani could progress, he indicated that anything was possible so long as it “conformed to the Thai constitution”. The Thai constitution stipulates that Thailand is “indivisible”, thus ruling out a federal system or independence for Patani. Such a clause in the constitution does not allow for meaningful discussions about the future of Patani.

Another issue that needs more discussion is the issue of taxation. Patani is one of the poorest regions compared to other provinces and redistribution of tax revenue from the centre is necessary to improve the lives of local people.

Never the less the “Future Forward Party” has stated that they will organise discussions with Patani activists and organisations in order to further develop party policy and this is a positive aim. They should not avoid talking to the separatists when conducting these discussions.

We shall have to follow the evolving policies of this party on Patani and it is to be hoped that they will go beyond the previous attempts by Thai politicians such as General Prem Tinsulanon or Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to co-opt local leaders into supporting the Thai state.

From Catalonia to Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent events in Catalonia throw up some similarities and lessons for understanding the struggle of the people of Patani. The independence movements in Catalonia and Patani both deserve our support and solidarity.

In both cases, a conservative constitution rules out the democratic right of self-determination for peoples in different regions. The Spanish constitution, which was drawn up by many of Franco’s nationalist supporters after his death, stipulates that the Spanish state is indivisible. For many people living in Catalonia and the Basque country, the unitary Spanish state was imposed upon them by force. In the years of the Franco fascist dictatorship their local languages were also banned. We have just seen the brutal violence of the national police and the hated Guardia civil in trying to prevent voting in the referendum and the Spanish king also went on television to condemn Catalan independence.

In Thailand, the first constitution, which was written under the guidance of Pridi Panaomyong immediately after the 1932 revolution, did not stipulate that Thailand was a unitary and indivisible state. Pridi even supported a level of autonomy for the Muslim Malays of Patani. But successive right-wing military dictators inserted the clause about an indivisible state in all subsequent constitutions. The formation of the Thai state was carried out using military force and an agreement with the British to carve up the independent state of Patani. The Thai state has also systematically tried to suppress the local Malay language in Patani and used brute force to enforce its rule. The Thai Queen is also on record as saying that she wished she could pick up a gun to fight against the Patani separatists.

The current Catalan government has introduced measures against evictions and energy poverty; a ban on fracking; a tax on nuclear power; a law promoting women’s equality at work and against sexual harassment; a ban on bullfighting… All of these measures have been overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

In Thailand the Constitutional court has been used to axe progressive infrastructure improvements and to sack democratically elected governments

In recent years those who wish to see an independent Patani state have mainly resorted to taking up arms against the Thai state. This is quite understandable given the level of repression. A recent example of such repression is the massacre at Tak Bai in 2004.

In contrast, the recent independence struggle in Catalonia has taken the form of a mass movement, including organised labour. The mass of the population turned out to defend polling stations and dockers, fire fighters and other workers staged actions in support, including the general strike to protest against police violence.

In terms of the power to challenge the state, the Catalan mass movement is much more powerful than the armed struggle in Patani. Of course the small population in Patani and the low level of unionisation means that the struggle in Patani cannot copy the exact tactics from Catalonia. However, an emphasis on building a mass social movement and on attempting to win solidarity for their demands in other areas of the Thai state would be much more productive than the current armed struggle. Linking up with those who are opposed to the Thai military junta would also be vital. This would mean that those seeking independence for Patani should view ordinary Thai citizens as potential allies and ordinary Thai citizens need to be encouraged to support the people of Patani rather than listening to islamophobic politicians and priests. Progressive Thais need to oppose Thai nationalism and the current clause in the constitution about an indivisible Thai state. To achieve this we need to build a left-wing party. The present situation means that this will not be achieved easily in the short term but there is no objective reason why it cannot be done in the longer term.

Apichart – the islamophobic fascist monk

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently the Thai military junta arrested and disrobed a racist Buddhist monk called Apichart. This has resulted in a wave of criticism from Thai racists and many pro-democracy activists who should know better. Many Red Shirts have complained about Apichart’s treatment by the military. They are totally missing the point.

Apichart is a thoroughly odious creature who has published videos of his islamophobic rants on social media. A couple of years ago he said that if one more Buddhist monk was killed in the Deep South, then Thai people should burn down mosques all over the country. He claims that southern Muslims have always been out to destroy Buddhism and take over the country. He uses the abusive and racist term “Kaek” to refer to Malays, Muslims and anyone from South Asia.

Apichart’s favourite Buddhist monk is the Burmese fascist “Wiratu” who uses anti-Muslim rhetoric to mobilise armed gangs to attack Muslims, including Rohingya people. Wiratu also has close connections with the Burmese military. Both Wiratu and Apichart distort history by claiming that the Rohingya and the Malay Muslims “should be grateful” for being allowed to remain in the country. But the reality is that their ancestral lands were seized by the central states of Thailand and Burma during the process of nation building.

Some of those defending Apichart have posted statements on social media saying things like “we should force the Muslim Imams to drink pork fat”.

The fact that the Thai military junta has arrested and disrobed Apichart has nothing to do with any progressive ideals on its part. The military is merely afraid that Apichart will inflame the situation in the Deep South so that it will be more difficult to control. But the results is that Apichart can now re-model himself as a martyr and racists all over Thailand can come out and defend him.

One huge problem is that the prevailing ideology in Thai society is racist. Ordinary Thais, many of whom do not agree with Apichart, use racist terms like “Kaek” to refer to Malays, Arabs or Indians. The fact that there is no left-wing political party of any significance means that an anti-racist movement has never been built. Apichart’s racist rants therefore went more or less unchallenged. They were not condemned by most Buddhist monks either.

The kind of islamophobic ideas put forward by Apichart are part of the same rhetoric used by fascists throughout the world. The concrete results is to cause divisions among ordinary people and to bind citizens to the nationalism of the ruling class. Despite the fact that Apichart was arrested by the junta, his ideas, especially about the Deep South, only serve to strengthen the dictatorship and divert attention from the real causes of the violence. It is the Thai state and the military who are the real terrorists in Patani, not those small groups of Malay Muslims who have taken up arms to fight the Thai state.

Seen from this angle, the ideology put forward by Apichart dove-tails with that of another extremist Thai monk called “Isara”. Isara encouraged the use of violence to wreck the general elections in 2014. He is also Generalissimo Prayut’s favourite Buddhist monk.

Not only does Thailand desperately need a mass pro-democracy movement, but it also needs a mass anti-racist social movement to operate in tandem. Such a movement could start to turn the tide of racism within Thai society and help build a free and equal society.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/2bemah3 

Also: http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY 

Patani: NGOs, Civil Society Groups, and the National Human Rights Commission back Thai state repression

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently there was another bomb attack at a market and a shooting outside an educational establishment in Patani. Who should take responsibility? Who should be condemned? And in this war between the oppressive Thai state and those fighting for self-determination, which side should we support?

The NGOs and those claiming to be so-called “civil society” groups in the South are quite clear. They issued a declaration condemning the Patani fighters and urging the forces of the Thai state to catch and deal with the perpetrators. They also urged the insurgents to stop using violence.

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There were no declarations from these groups urging the military junta and the Thai state to cease violence against the local Malay Muslims, no condemnations of Thailand’s violent occupation of Patani and no urgent requests that all the generals, politicians, soldiers and police who have committed state crimes be brought to justice.

Another group, calling itself the National Human Rights Commission, condemned the insurgents and urged support for state forces of “law and order”. This commission remained silent after the killing of unarmed red shirts in 2010 and has failed to condemn the use of lèse-majesté.

So the NGOs, so-called “civil society” groups, including civil servant associations, and the National Human Rights Commission, all show double standards and take the side of the oppressive Thai state in Patani.

Arundhati Roy once wrote that “any government’s condemnation of terrorism is only credible if it shows itself to be responsive to persistent, reasonable, closely argued, non-violent dissent. And yet, what’s happening is just the opposite. The world over, non-violent resistance movements are being crushed and broken. If we do not respect and honour them, by default we privilege those who turn to violent means.”

The people of Patani are prevented from forming legal political parties which advocate independence. The Thai constitution rules out any division of the country. Various members of the ruling class have repeatedly dismissed any ideas of autonomy or even proposals to use the Yawee language alongside Thai in Patani. State officials commit acts of violence with total impunity.

All Thai citizens are forced to respect the authoritarian ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” and those who do not are thrown in jail or witch-hunted by mobs of fanatical monarchists. Naturally the “religion” in this context is Buddhism.

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The peaceful protest against the detention of friends and relatives, organised by villagers at Takbai 12 years ago, resulted in the state murder in cold blood of nearly a hundred young men. No single state official has been prosecuted.

Torture and extra judiciary killings carried out by the Thai state are commonplace and any genuine rights organisations seeking to expose this are threatened by the military.

So how are those people who oppose Thai rule and repression, supposed to act in a non-violent manner? What space for them to act in such non-violent ways has been created by the NGOs and so-called civil society groups who backed various military coups?

A quick review of some historical events shows the way in which the Thai state has used violence and repression against the Muslim Malays of Patani.

1890s King Chulalongkorn (Rama 5) seized half of the Patani Sultanate. The Sultanate was divided between London and Bangkok under the Treaty of 1909.

1921 Enforced “Siamification” via primary education took place. Locals forced to pay tax to Bangkok.

1923 The Belukar Semak rebellion forced King Rama 6 to make some concessions to local culture.

1938 More enforced “Siamification” took place under the ultra-nationalist dictator Field Marshall Pibun.

1946 Prime Minister Pridi Panomyong promoted local culture and in 1947 accepted demands by Muslim religious leaders for a form of autonomy, but he was soon driven from power by a coup led by Thai nationalist military leaders. Patani leader Haji Sulong proposed an autonomous state for Patani within Siam.

1948 Haji Sulong was arrested. In April the same year, police massacred innocent villagers at Dusun Nyior, Naratiwat.

1954 Haji Sulong was killed by police under orders from police strongman Pao Siyanond.

1960-1970 Thai state policy of “diluting” the Malay population was initiated by re-settling Thai-Lao Buddhists from the North East of Thailand in the Patani area. This was carried out under various military regimes, starting with Field Marshall Sarit Tanarat. A ban was imposed on the use of the Yawee Malay language in state institutions including schools.

The school and education system has long been used to enforce “Thainess” by the state. Given this fact, it is hardly surprising that government teachers are targets for the insurgents. Even Buddhist monks in Patani are now totally compromised by their close links with the military.

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For this reason we must be clear that the violence in Patani is the responsibility of the Thai state and it is this state which should be condemned for its actions. The violence of those fighting oppression cannot be compared to the violence carried out by an oppressive state. We should therefore side with the people who are struggling for self-determination.

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Despite the fact that I support those fighting for self-determination, the insurgent armed struggle strategy prevents the building of mass political movements for freedom. It shuts out the role of ordinary people because of the civil war conditions and often results in the death and injury of innocent civilians.

Using “ghosts” to attack the Thai security forces and then not claiming responsibility might have some military advantages, but such advantages are massively out-weighed by the political disadvantages. By not claiming responsibility for attacks on “legitimate military targets” and by not confining attacks to such targets, the insurgents allow the Thai military to use death-squads, usually out of uniform, to attack and kill local activists and ordinary civilians who are on government black-lists. The government and mainstream media can then paint a picture of the insurgents as “armed gangsters” who kill people indiscriminately. This spreads fear among the local civilian population and is counter-productive to building real mass support among local villagers and also among the general Thai population in other regions. The ghost war strategy plays into the hands of the Thai state’s dirty war.

The Patani insurgents cannot hope to beat the Thai military in an armed struggle. They are significantly less well armed and funded and the local population which might support the insurgency is a small minority of the population within the current Thai state.

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To make any political progress towards liberation and self-determination, the Patani movement needs to abandon the armed struggle and build a mass political party which can operate openly without registering as an official party under Thai state legal constraints. This party should put forward political demands which go beyond just “Patani nationalism”. The party would have to address economic and social issues and be capable of winning support from local Thai Buddhists and also capable of winning solidarity from social movements in the central, north and north-eastern regions of Thailand. The experience of the IRA struggle against the British state or the struggle of other minority separatist movements shows that the demands for freedom cannot be won through armed struggle but must be achieved through political means.