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No human security for the people in the southern border provinces: fieldwork facts

Ranee Hassarungsee

The Social Agenda Working Group

The policies of Thaksin Shinawatra administration significantly contributed to the recurrence and heating up of the violence in Thailand's three southern border provinces, whose cultural, religious and racial context has been very sensitive. Such policies included that on the suppression of narcotics trafficking, which was used as a tool to eliminate his political rivals and competitive local influential groups; summary killing; and even the apparently pro-US foreign policy that earned Thailand a non-NATO alliance status. Although the Thaksin government was ousted by the 19-September 2006 coup, the authoritarian mentality, particularly among the military and police, remains. The use of violence by the government and the militants made ordinary people suffer, injuring and killing them. The civil society sector has to join hands in creating political space for the people to protect the lives and bring about justice to their society.

This report describes the spread of authoritarianism, which destroys international rules and regulation and domestic social security. Violent response to conflict has led to the closure of the people's political space that could alleviate the dispute. A case in point is the violence taking place in Thailand's three southern border provinces. None of the life security is left for the people there to enjoy. The ongoing violence taking place is of a structural one, which requires collaborative activity of the civil society and people sectors to bring about human security in the three southern border provinces and Thai society

Authoritarian democracy

A new phenomenon is emerging among the international community when a variety of international standards, treaties, commitments, statements or global forum policies has been increasingly recognized. These standard commitments on such aspects as human rights, international economic relationship and environmental protection, are connected with each other. Internationally, these issues may be accepted. But nationally, it is difficult that a country will turn such commitments into legally binding laws.

There are numerous reasons for this inaction, particularly those relevant to economic and political aspects. As a result, these international standards and commitments have become "soft laws," primarily agreed by the world and were likely to evolve into international customs and laws. But the world is now overshadowed by growing violence brought on by the threat of terrorism and war on terrorism. The great potential for these "soft laws" and other stronger treaties to become international standards, which contribute to the type of democracy that sanctifies the protection of ordinary people's rights, is terribly weakened.

Harold Lasswell, in his political concept on "Garrison state," introduced after the end of the Second World War, pointed out that a state that must be at war all the time could not sustain its democracy. Such society could not be an open society. The need for national security would seriously restrict civil liberty and the military would eventually dominate the government.

Today, the overall political settings are facing a massive political reality, created in the global context of growing violence. This can be clearly seen from the widespread terrorism threat, which might be considered by many to result from an appalling global injustice, combined with the state's violent response to the threat. The wars and violence encountered by democratic societies at the beginning of the 21st century are thus made different by two significant factors:

First, terrorism and war on terrorism undermine the basis of all kinds of political society, whose sense of certainty is guaranteed by the state's normal function to primarily protect the lives of its citizenry.

Second, without the political society's normality, the wider society is also changed, from a sorrowful society victimized by violent tragedy to a society eager and willing to use violence to relieve its sorrow.

Under this condition of fear, the whole society is militarily pressured all the time. Political solutions are fading. The rights of ordinary people are abandoned while civil society groups are gagged.

The state's violent response, ordinary people's terror and continued vigilance help spread authoritarianism. This can be the case even with the government elected by the majority voters, known as a democratic administration. Such case is called authoritarian democracy by Chaiwat Satha-Anand. The people's loss of life security could lead to the internal and external interest groups taking advantage of a situation and seeking profit from it.

The violence in the three southern border provinces

The situation in the southern border provinces started to become violent in 1948. It eventually died down and has recently heated up again. Forty-three violent incidents took place between November 2002 and April 2003. Most of these incidents were ambushes and occurred mostly, that was 21 times, in Narathiwat provinces. Thirty-one times of the violence targeted government buildings and officials, resulting in 30 people dead and 34 injured. Especially between January and 15 July 2002, there were 32 times of explosions, extortions and killings of state officials, totaling 19 lives of police officers. It was evident that the incidents of 2002 were tense and took place 30 times more than those happened in 2001 while the violence in early 2003 tended to be more intense.

The most serious incidents of 2003 were those of the two border patrol policemen who had been assaulted and killed by several villagers at Ban Manangkuepoh of Tanyongmas subdistrict in Narathiwat on 26 April 2003 and the weapons theft at the Southern Development Unit at Yala province's Than To district, whereby five officers were killed and two injured on 28 April 2003. On 7 April 2001, a bomb was planted at Hat Yai railway station, killing a child and injuring 37 people. So far, nobody has come out to claim responsibility for the explosion, but the authorities believed the terrorist movement did it. Shortly after the Hat Yai explosion, two explosions took place: one at a gas factory in Songkhla's Chana district and another in front of Yala's Sri Betong Hotel. In fact, the Hat Yai railway station was planted with bombs once on 13 August 1992, killing three people and injuring 77 persons. At the time, a letter was found and signed by the Pulo (Pattani United Liberation Organization) movement, which claimed responsibility.

But all these incidents cannot compare with the level of violence taking place in 2004. First on 4 January, a 50-militant force with a well-managed and cautious plan entered an army depot, robbing more than 400 guns and killing four soldiers. Then a Buddhist monk was killed on 22 January in Narathiwat's Ba Choh district. Two days later, similar incidents took place in Yala and Pattani provinces, whereby one monk and a 13-year-old novice were dead. Such killings of Buddhist monks were unprecedented in the southernmost provinces, where violence has lasted for over half a century and a number of Islamic religious scholars have been harmed. But it can be said that such harm had never been faced by the Buddhist monks before. This new violent trend could jeopardize the good relations between the Muslim and Buddhist people, whose cultural prejudice against each other might be usually expected, but could live peacefully in the region. (Most of the people in these three provinces are Muslim Malays while the majority people of the Thai society are Buddhist.)

Then on 28 April 2004, a number of militants mostly armed with knives raided police stations in Narathiwat, Pattani and Songkhla. The raids ended in 112 people dead, five of them were government officials. Thirty-two of the knife-wielding militants were killed by the government security personnel at Pattani's Krue Se mosque. More damaging to the relations between the state officials and the locals and between people of diverse cultures was the protest at Tak Bai in Narathiwat. The 25-October-2004 protest ended tragically with six protesters being shot dead at the scene while 78 of them died in custody after being loaded in army trucks to an army depot in Pattani. These increasingly violent incidents could well point to a future trend of rising violence.

The violence taking place in the southern border provinces over the past three years, or 35 months between 2004 and 2006, can be broken down as follows. In 2004, 1850 violent incidents took place while 2,297 and 1,622 incidents (the incidents in December were not included) occurred in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Of these three years, the highest incidents occurred in 2005. But considering the injuries and deaths taking place over the past three years, it appeared that more people were injured and killed in the southern violence in 2006 than those injured and killed in 2004 and 2005. Approximately, 1,699 people were injured and killed in 2006; 1,643 in 2005; and 1,438 in 2004. And the violence was caused by bombings more than arson attacks, which were previously used.

The data of the violence targets indicate that the public or innocent people continue to be on the priority list of the violent incidents. This has been the pattern of the continued violence recurring in the southern border provinces since 2004. As a political fight for the southern border province identity, attacking the state or its officials is a significantly symbolic resistance to the Thai state authority. But the actual targets are ordinary Buddhist and Muslim people instead. This could be concluded that the violent act aimed at terrifying both the Buddhist and Muslim groups. Although recently the Buddhist people have been increasingly threatened, Muslim people are also in great danger.

Fieldwork experience

The Social Agenda Working Group has started monitoring the disturbances in the three southern provinces in early 2004 when it cooperated with the Foundation for Peace and Culture to organise a Peace Project for the Iraqi Children and held a forum on "Peace talk by ordinary people". Attended the talk on 5 February 2004, Chaiwat Satha-Anand expressed his grave concern over the southern violence: "In the past, it was a violence and conflict between the state and the people, a vertical strife based on a horizontal harmony, whereby the Buddhist and Muslim villagers could live with each other. But the sword slashed at a monk has cut that harmonious relationship. The government's act has even worsened the cut. The use of violence cannot bring back this harmony. Only the cooperation between different religious adherents can rebuild that peaceful accord."

The Social Agenda Working Group has first participated in the study and alleviation of the violence in the three southern provinces in June 2004. The Group, consisting of the Women's Network for Progress and Peace, Local Eco-cultural Network, Inter-university Cooperation Network and the Group's Secretariat of The Social Agenda Working Group Chulalongkorn University's Social Research Institute, discussed the situation and arrived at the following conclusions.

  1. Thai society was having trouble with cultural diversity and different ideologies. It was necessary to understand the complexity of the problems. Universities and educational institutes should play an active role in promoting the knowledge and understanding so that the people could be free from being dominated by polarity, which needed to be tackled. A variety of activities taken to solve the problems would not provide any solutions so long as this polarity between Buddhists and Muslims still existed. Mutual understanding of each other as ordinary human beings must be promoted to get rid of this sense of polarity.


  2. Thai society did not understand the three southern border provinces adequately. The social and cultural settings of these provinces were drastically and violently changing. At the core of the problems was the fact that society did not pay enough attention to the local people whose culture and religion were different. It could not distinguish the urban and rural communities. Neither could it see the relationship between the rural Muslim majority and the urban people. Nor could it see the internal relations and disputes between different generations of people. It could not see how the traditional structure underpinning Muslim communities had been replaced by external social structure and how the local culture and resources had been invaded by outsiders.


  3. Because of such insufficient understanding, Thai society attempted to explain the problems in two ways. One group tried to present basic facts of who was doing what, where, when, or what had happened. The other attempted to describe the reality and answer the why question. Thai society should accept this lack of unity and collaboratively analyze the different understandings of the situation so that a joint learning of all concerned parties could be achieved.

Social and cultural approaches

To mitigate the problems and create peaceful well-being in the three southern provinces, the Social Agenda Working Group thus focused on:

  1. Building a horizontal relationship among people, collaborative activities participated by local communities and those shared by communities in the three southern provinces and wider society, so that "people would get to know each other" more and become less prejudiced; this could contribute to their peaceful coexistence;


  2. Providing alternative solutions to the problems by allowing the majority people to participate and voice their wider, deeper and diverse perspectives so that society could seek and learn a new thinking and understand the ordinary people's ideological pursuits on a continuous basis; no instant success formula was available for such complex problems related to distrustful local majority people, who were keen on suing violence; and


  3. Communicating with the areas outside the three southern provinces or the wider Thai society was essential because such external factors as the decision-making process, the authorities' authoritarian culture, public policy process and the mass media's one-sided presentation of the situation, have caused these problems. More space should be given to different thinking, opinions and assumptions so that a joint social learning could be created and the public was urged to participate in tackling the problems of the three southern provinces in a peaceful manner. It appears that it is even more necessary now to create a social environment conducive to reconciliation.

Local forum: human security from the people's perspective

The Social Agenda Working Group attempted to organise local forums so that the local people's needs could be included in the human security policy framework in the future.

The villagers said human security started first in the family, in the form of family security, whereby parents and children took very good care of each other. Failing to do so would put them in the same condition as a candle, which burns itself up to give light to the people. They said they attempted to strengthen their family affection and gain their children's trust by inviting Toh khru (an Islamic teacher) to perform their Muslim daily prayer at home and tell stories of olden times to the children to build up their morality. Such cultural tradition should be maintained and promoted to help consolidate security of the family and relatives.

To the villagers, their community tradition and culture served as a protection for their community security. They were told that to let their tradition collapse, they would never see the next world, which was very important to Muslims. According to Dueramae Daramae or Poh Ji, a local learned teacher in the Bodu mountain range, in order to have life security and to attain happiness, we have to have the sea, paddy fields, mangrove forests, and occupations as well as family, religion, with the secure heart, community security can be upheld.

In his opinion, community security rests on tradition and there are various traditions in Muslim communities. However, only play related traditions are retained, but the remaining traditions have been ignored.

The security of life was similar to spiritual security, which had been sustained by Islam and the pondok schooling system. The ability to constantly and properly conduct one's life according to Islamic teachings and devoutly follow Muslim tradition would contribute to an individual's spiritual security as well as community unity. In addition, the community would secure a decent way of life; loving kindness; good relationship between children and adults; knowledge and intelligence, unblemished occupations that would not damage one's own life and community; kindness to humans and animals; and interrelationship with all things. All of which brought about community security.

Local security, the villagers pointed out, depended on resource base security, whereby the sea, peat swamps, rivers, rice fields, forests and mountains provided them with plenty of food. Security would be realized when a resource management was relevant to local ecosystems and took into account the villagers' culture. Conflict over resources between the state and the private sector on one side and the villagers on the other was threatening the local way of life.

As for the unrest in the three southern provinces, the villagers indicated that the authorities, the government and media were not trustworthy, as far as justice was concerned. They alleged that government officials collaborated in filing charges against innocent people, which brought on fear and life insecurity to the villagers.

According to the villagers, the government regarded security only as the maintenance of order and use of military forces to control the situation. But to the villagers, human security also meant having adequate food to eat and a restful sleep at night. This security had to involve not only their life but also their families, relatives, and local communities as a combined unit of smaller parts. With their spiritual security, religious faith, well-sustained tradition and culture, food and resource base security firmly established against a backdrop of changes, the villagers were convinced that they would be fully aware and knowledgeable enough to take a firm step alongside any changes.

Public forum: a joint learning of structural violence

Structural violence or social injustice often results in manifest violence while cultural violence will function as legitimizing factor in such violence. Each level of violence is in itself complex. For example, the structural violence is a total sum of unequal social and economic relationships. At the same time, each society's ?culture' is neither static nor homogeneous. Cultural violence is a social belief that makes different types of violence in society tolerable, or acceptable, or even right.

The Social Agenda Working Group created a joint learning process for Thai society by organizing public forums that analyzed the structural violence in the three southern provinces based mainly on local information and perspective.

When the content of these public forums were put together and re-constructed, layers of relationships regarding the use of violence could be seen. They started from the most obvious things to the phenomena existing in Thai society's structure, reflecting the social injustice that had been the origin of various forms of the ongoing violence. There were also the layers hidden in culture, which was so willing to justify the narrow-minded attitudes toward people of different groups that it found the use of violence against those people acceptable. Here are five major issues and solutions to the problems,analyzed by Chaiwat Satha-Anand.

    Personal use of violence

  1. The violence in Thailand's southern border provinces has numerous actors: users of violence, local influential persons, government officials, and neighbouring countries as well as global superpowers. All of them have contributed to the violence in the context of global security politics, whereby almost all countries are dominated by the mainstream security strategy. Thus, the country must be free from this strategic concept if a real and sustainable security is to be established.


  2. Structural level

  3. The people of the southern border provinces have been impoverished and experienced economic injustice. Therefore, such injustice existing in the capitalist economy must be addressed. Thai society, however, should not consider solving economic problems as an only answer to the southern violence.


  4. Ruled by an economy that turns everything into a mere commodity without any limits, the three southern border provinces have had to face with natural resource management crisis. Ways are to be explored to provide the localities independence to manage their resources.


  5. Cultural level

  6. The management of education is an integral part of the bureaucratic system. As the Thai educational concept is centralized, its management is therefore irrelevant to the community's way of life. An educational culture recognizing cultural diversity is to be found.


  7. Thai society as a whole is influenced by the national history centred on Bangkok. This type of history also traces its relations back to the Ayutthaya and Sukhothai periods. So, new space must be found for social history, whose local and meaningful identity is also recognized, allowing history of different peoples to have a voice. In essence, a new national history must be created, based on the reality of the Thai society.

Apparently, a way out of the southern violence seems to lie in fighting with various forms of domineering knowledge and freeing the Thai society and its people from such domination.

If that is the case, then what is to be earnestly overcome appears to be the "monocultures of the mind," which are present in various forms of human society, including the Thai society. The "monocultures of the mind" produce a model of thinking that destroys different patterns of diversity in the name development, progress and mainstream security. The grave danger of the "monocultures of the mind" lies in its power to destroy diversity, leading to the disappearance of alternatives. Human society will then be blinded by the myth that there is not any alternative but to give in to the dominant thinking about national security, economy, politics, natural resources, education, or even the nostalgia for its past.

Human security and non-violence: the beginning of a process to address the people's problems

The National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), submitted its report to the government in June 2006. It proposed that a solution to the violence caused by fear and distrust start with an acceptance of the reality of Thai society, whose cultural diversity and differences do exist. Therefore, it is necessary to listen to the voice of the marginalised or minority groups.

Consequently, in the southern border provinces, the "voice" of the Buddhist Thais is important and should be listened to by the local majority people. Similarly, the majority of the Thai society ought to pay attention to the "voice" of the Muslim Malays too. When the whole country listens to the voice of the suffering minority people, both the state and public can collectively find ways to alleviate the violent danger suffered by everyone.

The NRC's approach to tackling violence focuses on human security and non-violence. This means the essential use of political and development measures, not suppression. Importance must be attached to an inter-religious discussion process to promote mutual understanding among religious adherents, determination to protect each other in a non-violent manner and treatment for the current wounds so that they will not become endlessly infected as in the past.

Adhering to non-violence needs the following understanding. Violence does not address the root causes of problems. Violence cannot strengthen the relationship between the government and the people and between different groups of people. Most victims are Thai citizens.The state and Thai society should therefore deem non-violence as a major solution to the problems.

This proposal by the NRC is thus a policy attempt to fight against authoritarianism that uses violence to tackle problems.

Alleviating the structural violence cannot use any single measure only. In particular, the military measure that uses violence to suppress violence will force the ordinary people to lie on the bed they have not made. It is recommended that the major mission of the people and civil society sectors is to open up political space to allow non-violence to play an active role in solving the conflict and structural violence in the three southern border provinces for the common good of the ordinary people, regardless of their being Buddhist and Muslim Thais, or Muslim Malays.

The Complex Social Conflict in the Three Southern Provinces

It was important to understand that over the past two decades, four major changes occurred in the three southern provinces, as follows:

  1. The three provinces' increasing integration into the national market


  2. The changes in natural resource management system by the state and capital make it more difficult for the villagers to adapt to such changes;


  3. The re-emerging awareness of Islam and being Muslim people; and


  4. The globalized penetration of consumerist culture and investment.

The conflict in the three southern provinces is not just a conflict between the "people" and the "Thai State". It is a bone of contention between the people here and such overall global situations as the 9/11 incident that have incriminated Muslims all over the world. This conflict involves internal exploitations by local people themselves or by outsiders. It relates to families, communities, society, and the people's way of life and their resource use.

Proposed Paradigm for Addressing the Violence in the Three Southern Provinces

  1. Respect for human life should be pivotal to the attitude of those involved in addressing the problems and be considered more important than interests, power, ideologies, religious beliefs, or fear and hatred.


  2. The state must quickly create peace that is driven by loving kindness and compassion for human fellows.


  3. Political approaches, not military action, At the root of the violence is a lack of peace in the complex political, economic, social and cultural structures, resulting from a wide range of factors. Heavy spending of money and deployment of military forces will not solve the problems.


  4. Broad-based public participation in the peace-building process and political space must be promoted so that a better understanding of changes and local people's problems, diverse needs and community and cultural way if life can materialize. Hence, sustainable peace will return to the locals and wider society.

Proposed Paradigm to Civil Society

  • Peace Building by the People
  • It is well aware that the violence in the three southern provinces has seriously affected the livelihood of ordinary people. It is a crisis, which does not involve only the state's security. Members of the Thai society should study and put into concrete practice the National Reconciliation Commission's policy recommendations, which attempt to fight against the spread of authoritarianism that believes in power, money and the use of weapons as major keys to solve the problems. The civil society has to join hands in alleviating the problems and helping the public avoid being victims of the violence. Collectively, peace should have a wider sense that also covers economic, social and political justice as well as sustainable resources. Thai society is in need of knowledge to handle conflict in a non-violent manner. We simply mention reconciliation without considering any details and concrete steps to achieve it. We, therefore, have to engage in community work and collectively seek this knowledge alongside with community organizations, local NGOs and civil society groups.

  • Elevating the People's Need to Human Security Framework
  • The work approach must focus on social and cultural dimensions and civil society's participation in alleviating and solving the problems. Ordinary people must be given alternatives by way of their group organization to seek new economic, political and cultural alternatives that are responsive to changes and capable of dealing with wider society so that they can control the decision to use social resources of those in power.

  • Finding Facts for Mutual Learning
  • Justice, government policies, anti-state movement, and hatred between Muslims and the Buddhist Thais in Thai society are sensitive issues. They have resulted from the conflict and use of violence for a long time. A lack of well-rounded information brings about different sets of knowledge and hostility, which need a conclusive research base and a knowledge-building process to ease up the tension and complicated emotions.

    Social movement activities and mutual learning to fulfill this need can be carried out with networks all over the country, such as those of the village leaders, community, women, development NGOs in different regions, health, local learning, government officials, educational institutions and the mass media.

  • Promoting the Media for Peace
  • The promotion of public opinion through the mass media, especially television whose coverage is fast but lacks details, accuracy and in-depth analysis, is flawed. The reporting of the violence in the three southern provinces is the case in point. It produces only fear and hatred, similar to the reports of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center buildings that encouraged the public to support the use of power and military forces to handle the conflict. The Social Agenda Working Group, therefore, thinks that it is important to work closely with the mainstream media to create more space for the promotion of public opinion based on widely diverse information, analyses and investigative reporting.

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