Saturday, September 10, 2005

Diplomacy best way to help "refugees"

KOTA BARU: The long history and close ties between Malaysia and Thailand can help resolve the impasse involving 131 Thais seeking temporary shelter here, Malaysia-Siamese Association president Senator Siw Chun Eam said.

Saying that the diplomatic channel was the best platform to resolve the problem, she added that the two countries should respect each other as neighbours and strategic partners within Asean.

"I am confident we can resolve the issue as neighbours and not resort to sentiments that make each other uneasy," she said in an interview.

Siw Chun was commenting on reports that Thailand was angry with the Kelantan government for accusing it of being high-handed in tackling the unrest in southern Thailand.

The Thai side is even considering reducing border-crossing operational times here.

Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat said the idea of reducing border operating times did not make sense.

Nik Abdul Aziz said Kelantan and southern Thai provinces like Narathiwat were enjoying the benefits of brisk cross-border trade and tourism.

"Kelantan has become a market for Thai goods and Thais want to buy some of our goods which are cheaper here," he said. - The Star

Other news:
  • Fear and mistrust high among Muslims
  • Top Brass From M'sia And Thai Armed Forces Meets In Bangkok
  • Siamese PM Wants Renewed Dialogue With Opposition On Troubled South

    BANGKOK, Sept 10 - Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has said he wants to revive talks with the opposition on way to deal with the insurgency in the country's predominately-Muslim southern provinces, the Thai News Agency (TNA) reported.

    Thaksin said his previous meeting on Thursday with MPs from the southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, who are all from the opposition Democrat Party, represented a constructive step forward in restoring peace to the restive South.

    He said such a dialogue should continue, and suggested future meetings could occur at venues in the southern region.

    Thaksin said that after his upcoming visit to the United States, he would like to spend more time gathering information about the troubled region in the field and members of the opposition would be invited to join him - BERNAMA

    Muslim Army Chief To Vows Soft Approach? Liar

    BANGKOK, September 9, 2005 – Siamese first Muslim army chief vowed Friday, September 9, to employ a softer approach, not soldiers, in dealing with unrest in the predominantly Muslim South.

    "I'd rather use the mouth and negotiations than weapons to fight the insurgency," General Sonthi Booyaratglin told Reuters.

    Siam Thursday, September 8, named Sonthi as its new army chief, the first-ever such move in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country to have a Muslim assume the post.

    Sonthi, a Vietnam War veteran, said military operations in the turbulent Muslim south had to change from combat to a focus on psychological and intelligence work.

    "Mass psychology comes first for the work of special forces, therefore my philosophy is a victory without a combat."

    The Muslim commander, who will assume office in October 1, will have two years in office before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60.

    Sonthi graduated from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy and was commissioned to the Royal Army Infantry Corps.

    Among other posts he assumed, he was recently commanding general of the elite Special Warfare Command.


    The Muslim commander said he would approach Muslim civilians in the South to have their trust in an effort to help quell unrest in the area.

    "In the future, our troops must be able to give them warmth and friendliness to give people confidence that they can trust us, then the situation will improve," he said.

    Sonthi, however, ruled out the possibility of daily violence in the South would vanish in the near future.

    The Siam government has declared emergency rule across the south, once an independent Muslim sultanate, under a decree rubber-stamped by a hastily convened cabinet meeting on July 15.

    The controversial measure grants Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra the power to impose curfews, censor news, ban public meetings, tap phones and hold suspects without charge for up to 30 days.

    Siam is a predominantly Buddhist nation but Muslims make up about five percent of the population and mostly live in the five southern provinces bordering Malaysia.

    Military Tactics

    Sonthi maintained that the Siam army needs to change military tactics in the south to deal with a kind of unrest the Thai army had not dealt with before.

    "Our troop deployments in the south have been designed to fight in World War Two or communist guerrillas during the Cold War, but now we need many state agencies to help put all these jigsaw pieces together to solve the problem," Sonthi said.

    Thai national rights watchdog has accused the army of "violent breaches of human rights" against Muslims in the south.

    The International Crisis Group (ICG) stressed on Thursday, May 19, that the Siam government's failure to address injustices and open a genuine dialogue with Muslim leaders in the south is the real reason behind unrest in the country - & News Agencies

    Former Malaysian leader stirs Thai border tensions

    MAHATHIR Mohamad, the outspoken former Malaysian prime minister, has stoked tensions with Thailand by suggesting that 131 refugees who fled across the border to Malaysia last week "may deserve asylum".

    The refugees, who fled to the northern Malaysian state of Kelantan, claim they feared for their lives after Thai soldiers arrived in their village looking for supporters of the insurgents.

    Despite Thai protests, the refugees are being interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees to establish if their claims of harassment by security forces are true.

    The Thai Muslims fled after a village imam was killed on August 29. Initially the villagers, including women and children, blocked police from entering the village, believing Government officials were involved in the murder. The Government then threatened to use the new state of emergency decree and the villagers fled to Malaysia.

    "I think if the people are real refugees, then we need to give them some asylum," Dr Mahathir said in Kuala Lumpur.

    In Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sidestepped the issue at his weekly news conference. "I'm dying to tell you everything I know, but officials have asked me not to address the issue in public because it is very sensitive. So let the foreign ministry and the security agencies work on the case. All I can say is the Government guarantees the safety of all people," Mr Thaksin said.

    Dr Mahathir also upset Thai authorities last year by suggesting giving autonomy to Thailand's three Muslim majority provinces, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.

    "I think it was not a welcome idea as far as the Thais are concerned. I made the suggestions thinking that it would be something that would help solve the problem," he said.

    Panitan Wattanayagorn, an expert on southern Thailand at Bangkok's Chulalonghorn University, said that at an international level Malaysia had a position of protecting Muslim citizens, but in practice Malaysia has always co-operated with Thailand.

    "Both countries realise they cannot do without the other. But Dr Mahathir no longer has to worry about dealing with the Thais after he makes comments," Dr Panitan said.

    Thailand's foreign ministry has dismissed the refugees as a ploy by an insurgent group, the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), to show Thailand in a bad international light.

    The latest violence in southern Thailand has been going on since January 2004 and more than 800 people have died. - The Age

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    You can't call them refugees - QnA session with traitor

    Ten months after 78 demonstrators in Tak Bai district died in military custody, Narathiwat province was again the focal point when 131 Thai Muslims fled to Kelantan. Narathiwat governor Pracha Taerat tells what he thinks is fuelling the violence in southern Thailand.

    Q: How’s the situation in Narathiwat?
    A: Calm. The violence as reported in the media is blown out of proportion and sensationalised. What is reported is far from the truth.

    Q: What about the 131 refugees who fled to Kelantan on Aug 30?
    A: You can’t call them refugees. Many people cross over to Kelantan every day. About 10,000 of them go over to Malaysia to work. Do you call these people refugees? It’s very wrong to do so and both the Malaysian and Thai governments must understand this. If you look at the majority of restaurants in Kelantan, they are staffed by Thais who have no work permits.

    About 10 of the group are suspected to be involved in previous attacks in southern Thailand. They incited the rest to cross over.

    Q: The group claims it fears persecution by the Thai military.
    A: Only terrorist suspects say they feel insecure, not everyone in the group. The Thai military have no problems at all with most of the 131.

    Q: Have you made contact with the group?
    A: We have been co-operating with the Malaysian Government to gain access to them, but so far they have not allowed us in to meet with the group.

    Q: What would you tell them?

    A: I would tell them not to be afraid of the security situation in the province. I would say not to worry and that I would personally guarantee their safety. The police and military would not do anything to harm them.

    Q: You visited the family of slain imam Abdul Wafa Yusof in Kampung Rahan, Sungai Padi district and was almost blocked by angry villagers. (The family claims that Abdul Wafa was shot by Thai soldiers on Aug 29. The killing sparked the exodus of the 131.)
    A: The family harboured ill-feelings towards the military and police, so we had to convince the security forces to stay out of the visit. We went there to offer our assistance like financial support for their children’s studies.

    Q: Did the family members say their father was killed by Thai soldiers?
    A: They felt that way, yes. But we did not dwell on this. We focused on offering them aid and help.

    Q: A lot of Thai Muslims distrust the military and police. Why?
    A: I think not all Thai Muslims fear the authorities. The ones who do are the suspected militants and those behind the violence. We have 60,000 Thai Muslims in the province, of whom only about 1,000 are suspected terrorists.

    Q: How is the relationship between Thai Muslims and Buddhists now?
    A: Not so good compared to 10 years ago. The terrorists have been able to drive a wedge between the two communities.

    No religion condones violence, but those who are behind the conflict have used religion as a tool for their purposes - NST