The foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) stirred a hurt reaction from the government because of their comments last week about events in the deep South.
Successive governments have for years tried to keep Thailand off the agenda at OIC meetings. This year they failed, and the Djibouti meeting of the 57 ministers raised Thailand, and not in a generally positive way.
The references to the situation in the deep South could have been productive or provocative, or both. In truth, despite the overblown government reaction, it was neither.
The ministers combined a mishmash of helpful advice, some misinformation, much opinion and a pinch of undiplomatic language into their 395 words on Thailand. All of it was couched in a condescending manner hardly designed to encourage more cooperation in the OIC's name.
In a single phrase that bothered the government, particularly the Foreign Ministry, the OIC professed "concern at the meagre progress achieved so far, five years after the issuance of the press communique" following a visit to the South by the OIC's secretary-general.
But this also was not the sole reference by the OIC of specific problems. It cited education, the ubiquitous military control, and the widespread lack of justice and rule of law.
Jullapong Nonsrichai, the deputy foreign minister charged with OIC affairs, took strong and public umbrage at the group's resolution. He compounded this error by failing to refute what the Muslim ministers said.
Progress in the South, he told the Thai media, was not at all meagre. "Thailand has made a lot of progress in the South," he claimed. But he stopped there, leaving thinking people to wonder just what progress he was referring to.
The pointed criticism of the OIC's resolution was valid. Thai officials promised in 2007 to introduce Malayu language lessons, and have made "limited progress". Rather than move towards a low profile for the army, officials are raising a special forces brigade for the region. The OIC was correct in referring to "undisciplined paramilitary militias" who are feared for their lack of discipline or regard for the law.
The OIC's resolution also went far off point. It calls on the government, for example, to initiate a dialogue with Muslim leaders, which would _ somehow, the OIC did not explain _ settle southern problems. If the OIC means Thai citizens in the South, there are no basic problems of rights and privileges. If it means the violent gangs of the region, there are no indications of who should do the talking.
Overall, the government should consider the OIC comments in a more favourable light. Correcting its errors would be simple with regular, diplomatic contact. The 57-member OIC with its unique viewpoints has much to offer in such talks.
There is more truth than error in the short OIC statement on Thailand. The constant promises to use Malayu in southern classrooms have never been kept. And abuses of law by rogue military members are swept under the carpet too often.
The OIC said last month that it will take a closer look at the South next year. Now is the time for the government to drop the confrontation. The Muslim group has wide influence, but also has much to offer in its studies of the deep South.