South Thai violence toll tops 3,000
, MARCH 21, 2008
Thailand's government has called an emergency cabinet
meeting on measures to end violence in the country's
troubled south after news that the death toll from
ongoing attacks in the region has topped 3,000.
Friday's crisis meeting in Bangkok comes as Thailand's
interior minister says he does not have "any idea" how
to end the bloodshed.
On Thursday police confirmed that 3,004 people had
been killed in the south since attacks flared-up in
January 2004, with thousands more injured.
The meeting follows a bomb attack last Saturday at a
hotel in Pattani province popular with local and
foreign NGOs and journalists that left two people dead
and confidence in any "safe zone" in the area
Al Jazeera correspondent Selina Downes says the CS
Pattani hotel was considered a haven from the fighting
and a venue for reconciliation where government
officials and Muslim leaders held meetings to try to
end the conflict.
Human rights groups say the bombing was as symbolic as
it was destructive.
"It is a political statement of separatist groups
showing that they can still launch large scale
attacks," Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch said of
"They are stressing the message that the land of the
south does not belong to Buddhist Thai or ethnic
The hotel bombing left Chalerm Yubamrung, Thailand's
interior minister, admitting he did not have "any idea
how to solve" the situation.
"The southern unrest is a very serious problem," he
told reporters. "It's based in their religion, their
beliefs, and their complaints regarding
Chalerm held talks with security officials in Songkhla
in the south on Thursday but stayed out of the most
volatile provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala,
drawing criticism that he was afraid of travelling in
Rejecting the criticism, the minister said he did not
want to disrupt security work in the region and would
visit the provinces later.
He said the new Thai government, installed in January,
was committed to peaceful means to end the crisis.
"I want to stress that our policy the prime minister
and myself we want to talk, we don't want to use
force," he said.
He has also called for help from the opposition
Democratic party, whose political strength is in the
troubled region, and said that negotiations with the
separatists may require the help of foreign mediators.
But the government's emergency meeting comes on a day
when the Thai government is also reviving its
controversial "war on drugs".
The first time the policy was launched by Thaksin
Shinawatra, the former prime minister, thousands of
people were killed and critics accused government
forces of extra-judicial killings.
Thaksin's crackdown in the south was also blamed for
inflaming the situation and alienating many Muslims.
The military leaders who ousted Thaksin in a September
2006 coup fared no better, initiating various
reconciliation and peace-building measures but failing
to stop the violence.
The new government has said it wants to rebuild
relations with the Muslim community.
"We will kick-start a new economic era in the south.
We want to hear how we can help them. We want them to
have a sustainable community," Chalerm said.
But talk of autonomy for the southern region was
quickly quashed by Samak Sundaravej, the new prime
minister, shortly after he took office and analysts
say the government cannot negotiate if it does not
know who to negotiate with.
"The problem is the government still cannot recognise
real actors behind violent attacks. Militants have
never issued statements or claimed responsibility,"
Srawut Aree, a professor of Muslim studies at
Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, told the AFP news
Filmgoer faces jail in Thailand for sitting during the
Richard Lloyd Parry in Bangkok
April 24, 2008
The lights had gone down, the film was about to begin,
and the young Thai couple were cosily ensconced in the
big Bangkok cinema when the popcorn started flying.
Most of it landed on the woman, hurled by a man to her
right. Soon he was slapping her with a rolled-up film
flyer, and screaming at her and her boyfriend to get
out of the cinema.
As the rest of the audience joined in, jeering,
throwing water bottles and urging on the assailant,
the two made their retreat. The incident reached its
climax this week when the boyfriend, Chotisak Onsoong,
was charged with an offence that could land him in
jail for 15 years. His alleged crime was simple:
during the playing of the royal anthem which precedes
all films in Thai cinemas, he had remained in his
Mr Chotisak, a 27-year old businessman and political
activist, is the latest person to be prosecuted under
Thailands stringent lèse majesté laws, which make it
a crime to defame, insult or threaten the King,
Queen or heir to the throne.
Unquestionably, many Thais revere 80-year-old King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose image is seen in almost
every office, many homes and on giant billboards hung
every few hundred yards above Thailands roads. But
others see the law as a tool of oppression and a means
of intimidating those who peacefully question the
Not standing up is not an offence against anyone
thats what I think, Mr Chotisak said in yesterdays
Bangkok Post, after being charged on Tuesday. The
public have the right to make a choice whether to rise
or not . . . I would like to stress that what I did
was not intended to insult or express vengeance to the
King. I was simply enjoying my right to freedom of
expression. In Thailand academics struggle for the
right even to discuss the monarchy, let alone
criticise it. And in recent years there has been an
increase in accusations of lèse majesté.
Mr Chotisak is that rare thing in Thailand an overt
Republican. His girlfriend is a Muslim, and objects to
the idolisation of a human. But their ordeal was mild,
compared with those of some dissenters.
In March last year a Swiss man received a ten-year
prison term for drunkenly defacing posters of the
King. He was pardoned and deported. Last summer a
professor of philosophy at Silpakorn University in
Bangkok, Boonsong Chaisingkananont, found himself
under investigation for lèse majesté after setting the
following examination questions for his first-year
students. Is the monarchy necessary for Thai society?
How should it adapt to a democratic system? Discuss.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej is accorded an almost divine
reverence. His titles include Phra Chao Yu Hua (Lord
Upon Our Heads) and Chao Chiwit (Lord of Life)
The Kings PR team manages his image and makes much
of his experiments with irrigation in the grounds of
his palace, his sailing talents and gifts as a jazz
Only lavish praise for the Royal Family can be
published by law
In 2006 Bangkok police estimated that almost one
million Thais thronged the streets of the capital to
celebrate the Kings 60th anniversary as monarch
The King is currently the longest-serving monarch in
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