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Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has admitted his government was wrong to use force to suppress the southern insurgency, and voiced support for handing autonomy to the deep South.
Thaksin was speaking in an online seminar held on Sunday by Motive, an NGO working in the southern border provinces. The seminar was titled “Scenario Patani – Future of Patani State or Thailand’s southern border provinces”. Patani refers to the former independent Malay sultanate that extended across modern-day Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla province
Thaksin said he supported the “people of Patani” – residents of the four southern border provinces – in their efforts to define their own future.
He said that when he was prime minister, he focused too much on security in the deep South. He said he had realised his policy was wrong and had been about to change it when his government was toppled by a coup in 2006.
Following the coup, he met with leaders of southern insurgency groups to hear their views, Thaksin added.
The southern insurgency flared during the Thaksin administration following an attack by insurgents on a Narathiwat Army base in January 2004, when a cache of weapons was stolen.
Two major incidents that year saw Thai security forces kill 32 militants holed up in Krue Se Mosque, Pattani, and 85 men in Narathiwat, in what is commonly referred to as the Tak Bai massacre. At the time, Thaksin cleared security forces of wrongdoing in both cases.
Speaking on Sunday, he said the government had wasted hundreds of billions of baht on military operations in the deep South, to no avail.
“We have lost many soldiers in the military operations. Today, we must use the military budget to develop the region and that development should have input from all sectors,” Thaksin said.
To solve the problem of insurgency in the South, the government must first understand the true situation of the region, he added.
He pointed out that deep South residents speak two languages – Thai and Malayu, while many have dual citizenship and travel back and forth between Thailand and Malaysia. Meanwhile, education in the region was focused on learning the Islamic religion and there were too few students in normal schools. Worse still, development on the Thai side of the border lagged far behind the Malaysian side, so many locals travelled to work in Malaysia, Thaksin said. He added that the border provinces are also plagued by drug and human trafficking problems, which could only be solved by civil government agencies, not military operations.
The former PM said the political party best positioned to develop the region was the opposition Prachachart Party, whose seven MPs are led by veteran Muslim MP Wan Muhamad Noor Matha.
“The Prachachart Party, which is close to people in the southern border provinces, can propose development input from locals to the next government,” said Thaksin, expressing confidence it would win in the deep South at the next election.
“Prachachart should play a major part in solving the southern insurgency,” he added.
He admitted his government had made mistakes in deep South policy and said military operations over the past 10 years had made almost no progress.
He said the key now was to recognise the deep South’s situation and switch the military budget to support “soft power”, technology and infrastructure development.
Thaksin also recounted spending a night at an Army base in a deep South conflict zone while he was PM. “The battalion commander at that time was Lt Col Apirak Kongsompong, who later rose to become Army chief. I made the visit without informing anyone in advance. … I also ate boiled eggs in the camp,” he said.
Only a political solution, not military force, would restore peace and development to the region, Thaksin continued.
He said the government would have to take brave steps, such as allowing the region to become a special administrative zone first.
“The government must allow local representatives, elected by local residents, to work. The government can simply ‘babysit’ the special administration. When everything is running smoothly, the region can become an autonomous zone,” Thaksin said.
Published : June 20, 2022
By : THE NATION