Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Thaksin's removal could help resolve insurgency


Jesse Lee Daniel had just called for mustard for his chicken burger when the first bomb went off with a thud strong enough to shake the Swan Bar, where he was sitting in the southern city of Hat Yai.

After the second bomb on the evening of Sept. 16, he hurried out with other foreign teachers who had been eating at the bar to take a look.

He was standing in front of the New Cherry Ancient Massage parlor, in a crowd of onlookers and masseuses, when the third bomb exploded on a motorbike parked at the curb beside them.

Daniel, a Canadian, died instantly, apparently the first Western victim of the almost daily violence that has taken more than 1,700 lives since the start of 2004 in Thailand's largely Muslim south.

It seems clear that the attacks were aimed at foreigners in the entertainment district, Chaiwat Satta-anan, a professor at Chulalongkorn University, said.

The attack that killed him and five others was part of a new escalation in a separatist insurgency that has been aggravated, according to experts, by the militarized, give-no-quarter approach of ousted Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin's ouster in a coup last week offers the chance for a new approach, though not a quick end, to an insurgency that has become nastier and more entrenched and that experts say may be receiving guidance and training from foreign Islamic insurgents.

"We are seeing that the insurgency is escalating at a very significant pace and very likely we will soon see an attack in Bangkok," Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based specialist on terrorism, said. "They have created a movement."

The general who led the coup, Sonthi Boonyaratglin, is a Muslim who had clashed with Thaksin over the government's southern policy. Days before the coup, Sonthi proposed negotiations with the insurgents, only to be brushed off by Thaksin.

But starting negotiations will not be easy. The only separatist group to respond to his offer has little control over insurgent activity, and Sonthi himself conceded that "right now, the military does not know who their real leader is."

Another limit to negotiations is the complicated nature of the violence, which appears to include not only the Muslim insurgency but also political and business rivalries, drug running, banditry and feuds involving the military and the police.

But analysts expect Sonthi at least to begin to carry out the recommendations of a National Reconciliation Committee, led by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun.

Although the committee was created by Thaksin, he ignored its recommendations and proceeded with a policy of confrontation.

"If implemented, all those alone would go a long way to improving the trust of the local community," said Zachary Abuza, a specialist on terrorism.

The recommendations amount to a turnaround in dismissive and discriminatory attitudes of the central government toward the Muslims, who make up 5 percent of the population of 64 million people.

They would start with the lifting of a martial law decree that the commission found had aroused fear and resentment in the three Muslim-dominated southern provinces -- Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.

They also urge greater attention to local conditions and culture, including public school education in the local Malay language, and an end to a culture of impunity that has allowed hundreds of killings and kidnappings by security forces.

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