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