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266th Meeting - Tuesday, September 6th 2005

Reconciliation in Southern Thailand:

Lessons from past attempts and present directions

A talk by Dr. Mark Tamthai, Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture, Payap University, Chiang Mai

Present: Bodil Blokker, Hagen Dirksen, Klaus Beitenhausen, Adrian Pieper, Guy Cardinal, Mohamad Jesr, Thomas Ohlson, Annelie Hendriks, Manus Brinkman, Richard Nelson-Jones, Peter Hoare, Ken Kampe, David Steane, Annette Kanstrup-Jensen, John Butt, Bill Yoder, Hans Bänziger, Sophie Le Coeur, Marc Callemant, Intira Collins, Fregonese Federica, Carool Kersten, Mungoi Suantak, Kong Janoi, Kate Gunn, Gonzaque Jourdin, Ammarin Thanolap, Oliver Hargreave, Christy Tovar, Colin Hinshelwood, Sharreh, Phu Murng, April Paw, Ester, Tabithar, Sunday Htoo, Karen Williams, Sandar Moon, Khwa Nyo, Jessica M. Hill, Oliver Benjamin, Edward van Tuyll, Mark Bleadon, Martin Luiz, Yan Naing, Alexander, Nay Tawin, Mi Monkyae, Boorng Di, Aung Min, Dacia Gauer, Adam Dedman, Brad Teeters, , Reinhard Hohler, Chris Barr, Wan-Lee Yin, Maria and Guy Scandlen, Sasitor Tamthai. An audience of 60 + perhaps at least another 8 people who didn’t sign the attendance sheet.    

Mark Tamthai was a professor at Chulalongkorn University for 30 years and is now the director of the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture at Payap University.  For the past 10 years he has been advisor to the National Security Council on matters of peace-building and reconciliation.  He was one of the architects of the National Security Policy for the Southern Border Provinces (1999-2003).  He is a member of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) and chairs the NRC's working group on the development of nonviolent methods in the struggle for justice and dignity in the southern border provinces.

Mark’s minutes of his talk

Content of the talk

Past Attempts.    From the point of view of Bangkok the southern region was always a security concern and the policy used to deal with this situation through the years was that of assimilating the population in the region to ‘Thai’ ways, along with an emphasis on economic development during particular difficult times.  Since the security situation never showed a sustained marked improvement, a completely different way of thinking about the region was embarked upon about 8 years ago.  It was time to draft the new National Security Policy for the Southern Border Provinces (1999-2003) and this time the people who live in the region were invited to participate along with the security officials in trying to write a better policy which would take their lives and their personal security concerns as a starting point.  The policy that resulted from this participatory process was a complete 180-degree turn from all the previous policies based on the assimilation paradigm of security.  The policy begins with the following ‘Vision for Resolution of Security Problems in the Southern

Border Provinces’:

       For all people in the southern border provinces to be able to live happily and peacefully on the basis of their religious and cultural identity, especially for Thai Muslims, the majority group of people in the area, to be able to “live as Muslims in Thai society” just as other groups are doing as members of Thai society.

       For all people to realize the value of cultural diversity, as a source of power and wisdom which helps create security, peace, and sustained development. 

      For the people in the region to have the opportunity to participate in problem solving and development processes as well as in tasks jointly carried out by all parties in society, so as to protect the way of life of the people in the society from the impact of changes and external pressures.

 The first three years (1999-2001) of this policy saw a marked improvement of the situation in the region.  But things began breaking down the final two years (2002-2003), and January 2004 was the starting point of the present spiral of violence.  This called for an urgent evaluation of this policy.

Lessons learnt from evaluating the implementation of this policy:

1.  This kind of approach to the south was so very new and different from all previous approaches that the re-training of government officials to understand this type of policy will need much better planning and must go beyond merely holding workshops.

2.  Those who oppose such policies will not openly argue against them since they are designated as “official” policies but will attempt to undermine them with covert activities.  If those wayward officials are not disciplined by their superiors then this will likely raise questions as to the sincerity of the new approach.

3.  For such a turnaround in vision to take hold it is necessary to bring the entire Thai public on board.  This will necessitate a large number of public education programs throughout the country.

Present Directions.  The present directions being taken by the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) fall under 5 sub-committees, which oversee about 15 working groups.  The 5 sub-committees (and examples of the problems they work on) are:

        - Sub-committee on rebuilding trust, human rights justice system reform.  An example of a working group here is one that deals with allegations of abductions by state officials.

        -  Sub-committee on conflict resolution and the promotion of nonviolent forms of struggle.  An example of a working group here is one that works with the community leaders in the south to explore the possibility of developing a nonviolent movement aiming at the struggle for justice.

        -  Sub-committee on education and development.  One of the working groups here is studying existing text books which seem to be promoting assimilation and leaving little room for maintaining one’s identity.  This is then followed by suggestions on how to rectify the matter.

        -  Sub-committee on cultural diversity.  

        -  Sub-committee on Reconciliation in the local areas.  This Sub-committee deals with immediate short term measures to head off approaching violence, such as might arise from misunderstanding mosque activities during Ramadan or from a lack of go-betweens trusted by all during confrontations.

Are we doing enough?  Are the present directions explained above enough?  Are the directions complete enough to be a foundation for sustainable reconciliation?  One glaring omission from the various matters the NRC is dealing with is that they do not cover the political aspirations of all the stakeholders.  The NRC is basing its work on the assumption that a revamp of the justice system (through judicial reform) and the promotion of Thai society as a culturally diverse society (through public education projects) is the foundation for reconciliation in the area.  Political solutions, such as special autonomous zones, have not been discussed or debated in any depth.  The key question is, “Should they?”.  This question itself can not be answered without discussion of this matter, and so it would seem that the NRC still has much self-evaluating to do.

Mark’s talk was followed by an extended and extensive question and answer session. As part of an answer to one question from the audience, Mark talked about the Thai flag as an example of cultural differences/diversity as an obstacle to assimillation. The white colour in the Thai flag represents religion – specifically Buddhism. The Muslims in the South do not feel inclined to acknowledge a symbol which does not include their religious faith. According to the Thai flag, to be Thai means to be Buddhist. 


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