Arming the South with a replica cannon

The wreckage of the replica of the historic Phaya Tani cannon damaged in a bomb blast at the Krue Se mosque in Pattani's Muang district is plain to see.

Pictures of the ill-fated replica appeared in every newspaper on Wednesday, some on the front pages. It was a matter of luck that there were no casualties in the explosion that damaged the cannon.

This replica _ the original is displayed in front of the Defence Ministry in Bangkok _ means different things to different people.

The bombing on Tuesday was just two days ahead of the peace talks between Thai authorities and representatives of Barisan Revolusi Nasional and it saw the boss of the Isoc 4th Region office and other local authorities put the blame on the separatist movement.

Those in the tourist industry lamented the fact that this latest act of violence may affect plans to boost tourism in this particular spot as the replica had to be taken for repairs in Bangkok.

They saw the replica as a new attraction in an area that was once a thriving tourist spot. But we should say that the idea of having the replica cannon at the Krue Se mosque may have been misguided.

"It's unclear if the cannon was originally located at this mosque," said Walailak Songsiri, a researcher at the Lek-Prapai Viriyapant Foundation, an advocate of cultural ecology in southern region studies.

In her opinion, it could be located almost anywhere in the old Pattani state, which during its golden era about 400 years ago had a thriving brass industry. With advanced metal-working technology, this southern state became the region's major maker of cannons.

The Phaya Tani cannon was moved to Bangkok in the reign of King Rama I after Siam suppressed Pattani's rulers.

"It was a tradition that conquerors would round up locals _ the most valuable resource of the time _ and other treasures such as white elephants, gold, Buddha images and precious goods from a defeated state." In this case, they also took the Phaya Tani cannon.

Ms Walailak does not believe the cannon has been a traditional symbol of resistance to Siam.

In her opinion, the importance of the cannon and Krue Se _ especially after the mosque crackdown in 2004 _ have only come to serve separatist ideology in recent years.

The myth of the Chinese deity Limkoniew, whose brother converted to Islam and built the Krue Se mosque, and the old sentiment of resistance to Siam has only recently been politicised, she added.

And the bombing of the replica cannon calls into question the merits of the project.

It must be admitted the Phaya Tani cannon affair effectively stirs bitter memories of the antagonism between Siam and Pattani.

The case echoes a lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of government and some local authorities _ one of the problems that has prolonged the insurgency.

Ms Walailak is right in pointing out the cannon affair reflects the mismanagement of state budget. Billions of baht have been allocated in haste to this troubled region as the government struggles to end the violence.

More often than not, the money is used for worthless projects such as the Phaya Tani cannon. This replica cannon cost 3 million baht, excluding the cost of transport. And now more money is needed for repairs.

Even more absurd is deputy governor Seree Srihatrai's idea of holding a shuro (Islamic-style) forum to ask local people if they still want the replica before re-installing it at the mosque.

Excuse me, sir, but aren't you supposed to ask local people before, not after, placing the item on display?

And what will you do if the locals say no?

So instead of repairing the item and re-installing it at the mosque, we should leave it unrepaired and in Bangkok. How about turning the damaged replica into a lesson, albeit a costly one?


Ploenpote Atthakor is Deputy Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.

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Writer: Ploenpote Atthakor
Position: Deputy Editorial Pages Editor