Eight years after Tak Bai, and no closer to peace

Today is the eighth anniversary of the Tak Bai tragedy – one of the worst blunders ever committed by the military in the restive deep South.

  • Published: 25/10/2012 at 01:26 PM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

 The iron-fisted manner employed by the military in its handling of the protest in Tak Bai district of Narathiwat on Oct 25, 2004 resulted to the death of 85 ethnic Malay Muslims, of whom 78 died of suffocation while being trucked to a detention centre from the protest site.

In the lead up to the anniversary of the massacre, militants stepped up their attacks against both military and civilian targets. In one single day, on Oct  16, six people, mostly innocent bystanders, were murdered.

Security was beefed up in anticipation of escalated violence with security forces conducting house raids and road checks in search of suspected militants and hidden illegal firearms. An atmosphere of insecurity blanketed the three southernmost provinces.

As usual, the militants appear to have the upper hand and are capable of operating almost at will with security forces repeatedly being caught off guard. Lack of reliable intelligence about the movements of the militant groups remains a big problem for the security forces as rightly stated by army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who recently appealed to the people in the restive region to come forward to provide information about the movements of the outlaws -- the militants, drug dealers and oil smugglers -- to the authorities.

Citing the case of roadside bombs, General Prayuth said it would take the militants at least an hour to dig a hole under an asphalted road and then put an improvised explosive device into it. This activity could hardly go unnoticed  by local people in the area. Had the villagers come forward to offer the information, such bombs would have been defused before they went off,  killing or injuring soldiers and civilians alike, he added.

But before the villagers are willing to come forward to give vital information, they must first have trust in the authorities, and then they must be certain they will be safely protected from possible reprisals by the militants.
So trust building is imperative for success in dealing with the insurgency problem. And for trust to be built and strengthened to the point the locals are willing to cooperate with the authorities, it is essential that they are treated fairly, to be accorded the justice they deserve. 

Tak Bai incident is just one prominent case. Several families of the  victims,  and other Malay Muslims, strongly feel that justice is still evasive even though most of the victims’ families have already been compensated.
It is nevertheless encouraging that the military, from the very top, has of late  been more accommodating in its approach towards the problem. 

Apparently as part of the trust building process, Deputy Prime Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa, who is charge of solving the issue, and General Prayuth on Wednesday met with Malay Muslim intellectuals in the far South for a candid exchange of views.

At one point during the meeting, General Prayuth said he was willing to lift  the emergency decree and pull troops out of the restive region immediately if peace could be restored. He asked the intellectuals whether they were willing to play their part.

General Yutthasak, meanwhile, offered an apology for the past misdeeds committed by security forces and asked Muslims to set aside the past and look to the future instead.

But since the perpetrators of most of the violence are of the new breed, radical militants who cannot be easily persuaded to come to the negotiating table, the government or the military need some fresh incentive to convince them to talk, possibly the offer of a special administrative zone for the far South.

The framework peace agreement inked recently between the Philippines government and the Moro Muslim rebels could provide a model for the Thai government or military, to rethink their viewpoint on the issue of a certain level of self-determination for the Malay Muslims in the southernmost border provinces. 

And if peace talks are to be pursued in earnest, the involvement of a third party such as Malaysia should be considered, and that means that we will have to treat Kuala Lumpur with less suspicion than we do now.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor

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