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Reflections on what happened
in Southern Thailand



Chaiwat Satha-Anand - TFF associate

Thammasat University, Bangkok


Read also Facing the Demon Within of February 6, 2004 by the author.


Bangkok May 2, 2004

People called me, mostly the press both Thai and international, asking how to make sense of the incident. For some of my friends who might not have followed what happened in Southern Thailand on April 28, 2004, let me offer a brief reflection.

The government killed 108 men who attacked 10 official sites (police stations among others) in three provinces (Pattani, Yala and Songkhla). The attackers were mostly young (some below 20, at least one around 60), most used knives (official figures were more than a hundred with only 4 M16, 2 HK and a few guns). It was reported that in some cases these people charged the police stations with knives in their hands and engaged in brutal hand-to-hand combat with the police. But in an incident which took place in Songkhla, it seems the attackers were young soccer players from a local school. A good team with good winning record: good kids and nothing like the drug-related goons the government claimed. Of course, all of them were killed by authorities' bullets. There were 5 policemen killed in the incident.

The longest struggle took place at the historical and unfinished Kru-Ze mosque in the center of Pattani, near the tomb of a deified Chinese woman, who according to legend was said to be the one who put the curse on the mosque. I was asked to meet with the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof.Saneh; we were thinking on how to help mitigate the violence. Some friends watched TV and wondered if this was in Southern Thailand or in Palestine? Some of those who were killed carried copies of Qur'an in their backpacks and some use the Palestinian/Arab-style cloth to cover their heads.

I then received a phone call from a friend who was in communication with some field officers. She asked me what could be done? I said that only through dialogue could this be solved, especially at the mosque. She asked if I was willing to go to the South and negotiate between the security forces and those who were inside the mosque shooting out and without consulting anyone, I said "yes". She consulted with her contact and informed me that they decided against the negotiation; those inside the mosque were criminals and would be taken out.

I reminded them of the cultural significance of the mosque but no one listened. I found out later that there was an order from the Deputy Prime Minister against attacking the mosque and advised the field commander to use negotiation no matter how long it took. However, the field commander, an army general, refused to obey and ordered an attack of the mosque. All 34 people inside were killed. For this breach of command, he was removed from the field. But he told the press that he ordered the attack not because of the threat from those "bad guys" inside the mosque because there were so many security forces surrounding the site, but he was afraid of the local people who began to show signs of resentment against the violence and it's getting late into the afternoon, he was afraid that anything could have happened when nightfalls. The killing was over by 3 p.m.

It saddened me so much because perhaps I thought naively that all this could have been avoided. 

From January 4 of this year, there have been much violence in the South, the targets had most of the time been government officials. Then it moved to include monks, young and old and the rift between Muslims and Buddhists widened. Early this month, another deputy Prime Minister went down to meet all kinds of people and came up with a peace plan, he even called it a nonviolent plan, designed as a therapy to cope with what he saw as the prognosis of the problem, more violence. Because the plan was radical ( stop the "disappearances" of people engineered by government officials immediately, treat dual citizenship not as a security threat but an asset,provide amnesty to all regarding aspirations of separatism, among others.), it was met with resistance within government circle.

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The government, especially the Prime Minister, considered this way of handling the conflict a success for the state. I am not certain it is. This has something to do with the politics of death. The government might think that killing more means success in dealing with violence in the South. But given the manner in which these people attacked, mostly with knives, I feel that they thought of death differently and maybe their victory lies in their deaths for the cause they believe to be just.

When the government attacked the Kru-ze mosque and went in to kill those inside, it seems to indicate to the people that state power stands triumphantly against God, Your God. I wonder how a Muslim in Aceh, Kelantan or Mindanao would feel looking at such a scene on TV in SE Asia and elsewhere in the world? But I am also saddened when I read that the government's approval rate was high: 92% approval of the ways it responded.

I felt like something was lost, a kind of decency, gentleness, a sense of respect for sacred places which constitute a measure of how "civilized" a society is. All those was lost - together with the dangerous rise in political cost. I don't know how long it will take for Thai society to deal with this problem, to heal the wound that cuts deep into the alienated part of its imagined community. This is different from the killings during the democratic uprising in May 1992. The ethnic divide was and is dangerously conspicuous.

And for some of you who are historians, I was asked by the press why it happened on April 28. I told them that the last time the most violent fight between the Malay Muslims and the authorities took place was in 1948 with more than 400 Malay Muslims dead and 30 policemen were killed. That incident was called "Perang Dusun Nyor" (dusun nyor war) by Malay historians. It occured on April 28, 1948.

I look at the violence in the world around me and feel it's grip tightened and wonder what the victims as well as their families feel this very moment. Tomorrow, I shall send a representative of our Peace Information Center to visit the families of those who were dead to tell them that we care.

Maybe there is much much more to be done along the road for peace and nonviolence. I pray to God for the courage and perseverance of us all.

With peace,



© TFF & the author 2004


Read also

Facing the Demon Within of February 6, 2004



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