Monday, November 23, 2009

Simple lies by Anupong

View of Narathiwat from a Black Hawk helicopter. November 12, 2009.

(This post was originally called 'fisking Anupong' until it was brought to my attention that there is another definition for fisking...who knew?!)

I personally don’t like unpacking questionable statements and articles in the news because it is time consuming.

Yet sometimes, an article is so littered with politician’s blatant lies and journalistic incompetence that it simply begs to be deconstructed.

The Bangkok Post’s recent article Army takes a hard line with rebels is a case in point:

PATTANI : The army has shot down a call to negotiate with insurgents to end conflicts in the restive South.

Army chief Anupong Paojinda said no talks would be held with separatist groups during his tenure, which ends in September next year. "We won't negotiate with them. But we will take legal action against them," he told the Bangkok Post.

NS: Anupong is simply lying, negotiations have been an ongoing, but largely a secretive process, since Surayud was installed as Prime Minister.

"They have to be brought to trial for having murdered innocent people," said Gen Anupong, who accompanied Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban on a trip to inspect government development projects in Pattani and Narathiwat last week.

NS: In this context, the Royal Thai Army also needs to be “brought to trial for having murdered innocent people” considering the long list of victims in the Tak Bai incident or prominent cases like Iman Yapa.

Gen Anupong was reacting to calls by Puea Thai chairman Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to negotiate with separatist groups to end the violence.

Gen Chavalit has also proposed an amnesty for militants in the three Muslim-dominated provinces.

Since violence resurfaced in the region six years ago, it has claimed almost 4,000 lives.

The Internal Security Operations Command believes 8,000-10,000 insurgents are active in the deep South. The insurgents took shelter in more than 200 villages in the so-called red zone and used pondok schools as a base to carry out attacks against civilians and state officials, it said.

"The insurgents want to separate our land and set up an autonomous area," the army chief said.

NS: This is a serious problem on two levels. If it is a translation problem then it is simply shoddy reporting by the Bangkok Post. But if it is what Anupong said, it is still shoddy reporting because he is clearly obfuscating issues and a professional journalist should have questioned this or at least qualified it by stating in the next sentence that Anupong was either confused or being purposely deceptive.

As for Anupong, and taking that he actually meant what he said, he is simply being a shifty liar. Separatism and autonomy are very different issues. Separatism would result in an independent state while an autonomous area would not violent the ‘one and unitary’ condition of the constitution, would not divide the nation (แบ่งชาติ), and would simply devolve local governance powers and decision making to the border provinces….much like Bangkok enjoys.

They carried out attacks to draw international attention to their "plight".

But the army leader said that the southern violence was a domestic issue that could be solved by the government alone.

NS: International attention is not exactly a major factor in southern militants’ tactics, but it is a major fear of Thai elites who are ever fearful that their prolonged incompetence in addressing the southern conflict will ultimately draw in the international community. But, this quote does allow Anupong to repeat the standard line that ‘conflict is a domestic issue’ and everyone should simply forget about it.

No other countries, including fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, had offered themselves as brokers in talks between the government and the separatist groups.

NS: It is common knowledge that Malaysia (while not an honest broker as they are a stakeholder in the conflict) and Indonesia have offered to broker talks.

Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia plans to tour the three southernmost provinces with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva early next month. The trip is intended as a show of Malaysian support for Thailand's efforts to tackle the violence.

NS: WTF?! Is this article an opinion piece from the self-deluded Nation or Manager? Malaysia might support the military’s declarations that they will not violent human rights but the Malaysian PM is certainly accountable to his own constituents who are critical of the Thai military’s heavy handed tactics. In addition, Razak floated the idea of autonomy which flip-flopper Abhisit initially supported but has since backtracked on. But really, the key point of the trip by Razak will be to show his constituents that he is pressuring Thailand to treat the Malay-Muslim minority in the Deep South with some dignity and respect for their rights and CERTAINLY NOT as a show of support.

Gen Anupong said no Asean members would interfere in the southern issue. NS: Yes, we got the message already, an internal issue. The army had no plan to withdraw troops from the area. There are 20,000 soldiers, 18,000 police and 40,000 defence volunteers providing security for two million people in the deep South.

NS: This is more complicated given the number of irregular troops.

As i understand it, it is higher and goes like this:

In addition to the 20,000 soldiers and 18,000 police there are 50, 000 village defence volunteers (ชรบ), 10,000 rangers (ทหานพราน), 20,000 defense corps (อรบ) and 6,000 Or Sor (อส which are well armed troops who are full time paid soldiers under command of the Ministry of Interior and the only ‘volunteer’ part of their work is that they are not conscripted). This total of armed state-sanctioned forces is at about 124,000 depending on a couple of variations. This rough works out to 1 state-armed person per 20 residents in the Deep South.

"We will not abandon people to live alone. Without us, how could they survive?" Gen Anupong said.

NS: Who is he abandoning and who would not survive? Clearly it is not the 80% Malay-Muslim population that he is talking about but the 20% Thai-Buddhist population and these kind of black and white comments are simply pandering to the nation by employing empty but emotional nationalist rhetoric.

He had told border officials to keep a close watch on people with dual Thai-Malaysian nationality as he believed many were involved in attacks in the deep South.

Security experts believe militants with dual nationality carry out attacks there, then flee to neighbouring Malaysia to avoid being caught.

NS: Case in point of the nonsense about Malaysian PM going to show ‘support for Thailand's efforts’. If Razak was supportive of Thai efforts then he would cooperate at the border on security issues and take action against suspected militants retreating into Malaysia.

The question of how to tackle assailants with dual Thai-Malaysian nationality will be tabled for talks between the two leaders when Mr Najib is visiting here, officials say.

Gen Anupong also criticised "the Pattani model" pushed by Gen Chavalit as a solution to the violence.

Gen Chavalit has proposed a form of elected self-government for the region, similar to the way Bangkok is run.

He says the government is deliberately misinterpreting his call as advocacy for an independent Pattani state, which he opposes.

NS: Yes, certainly. As Anupong did above and I mentioned here, it will be easy for the opposition to misrepresent what autonomy is.

He was not proposing separatism, just self-government. Gen Anupong, however, said the details were still unclear and had led to misunderstanding among southern residents.

" I don't understand exactly what Gen Chavalit is advocating. Further discussions are needed. I believe he has a hidden agenda," he said.

NS: More obfuscating the issues and simple lies by Anupong. ‘A hidden agenda’? Obviously it is a clear agenda to flummox Abhisit’s embattled and ineffective government. But what might be ‘hidden’ is potential long term solution to the intractable southern insurgency.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What do Malay-Muslims really want?

* All images copyright *

Ramadan and the Central Mosque in Pattani City. August 26, 2009

The question of what Malay-Muslims really want is a serious blind spot in the southern insurgency.

Obviously, it would seem a critical issue to understand not only the grievances fueling the insurgency but to understand the political desires of the nearly two million Malay-Muslim citizens in the southern border provinces.

Yet no one can say, with any authority, what the residents there want.

This is in part because the Thai state fails to differentiate between the legitimate political expressions of grievance and separatism. For Thai authorities, Malay-Muslims expressing dissatisfaction with the government is the same as expressing support for separatism.

Because we dont really know that Malay-Muslims want, journalists, academics, and myself, tend to simplify this blind spot and cluster all Malay-Muslims into a homogeneous group.

This is obviously not accurate but serves as journalistic shorthand for a complex issue without easy answers.

"led to widespread misconceptions about the spiraling conflict, including that nearly all of the minority group harbor Patani Malay Muslim nationalist sentiment and resentment towards the Thai state".

In fact, Jason's article makes a number of interesting comments and particularly:

"As de facto spokespeople for the Patani Malay Muslim nation [Malay Muslim intellectuals], they tend to overstate the nationalist cares and concerns of ordinary Malay Muslims, frequently speaking about group pride in the ancient Kingdom of Patani, the Malay Muslims unique way of life, and the need for the Thai government to give greater recognition to this identity by, for instance, allowing some form of autonomy."

With the debate over autonomy brewing, it would be nice to know if a possible autonomy agreement would be serving the political aspirations of a majority of residents or whether it will be an elite driven process granted by Bangkok and solely serving the needs of a few Malay-Muslim elites and by separatists who would be major beneficiaries of increased political power.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ultranationalist PAD

* All images copyright *
PAD supporters in Sanam Luang on Sunday November 15, 2009.

I have been going to the street protests in Bangkok for about four years now and think I am used to the acerbic nationalism used to stoke the crowds.

Both Yellow (PAD) and Red (UDD) are guilty of this.

Yet PAD's rally on Sunday in Sanam Luang ratcheted up the nationalist nonsense into nothing short of a rallying cry for war.

War with both Cambodia and a civil war within Thailand.

Over at Prachatai they have a summery of the some of the comments on stage:

"Prasert Lertyaso called for the beheading of Hun Sen, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, and Thaksin Shinawatra, alluding to an old Thai saying of shedding blood to wash royal feet. He banished Thaksin’s supporters to Phnom Penh and Dubai."

"Saken Sutthiwong said that Cambodia was afraid that [Thai] F16 fighter jets would miss their targets and bomb Angkor Wat and Prear Vihear instead, because they earn their living from those ‘old stones’."
"Then some students came up to condemn Hun Sen and Thaksin, the traitor. They vowed to fight to the death to protect the Nation, Religion and King. "

"...Gen Preecha Iamsuphan, who had led yellow shirts in raucous protests near the Prear Vihear site in September, spoke to the crowd that it was time to get rid of traitors, as they all had appeared before their eyes. ‘We have to quickly finish them off for the sake of our beloved King and ancestors, so that Thais stop quarrelling with one another because of these scoundrels.’"

"Sondhi Limthongkul said the nation was important because it was composed of religion and the King. When people have faith in religion, religion is strengthened and so is the monarchy. Religion and the King will never be separable."

While such rhetoric sounds bad, some of the songs they sang might have been worse:
"Two royally-penned songs, ‘The Highest Dream’ and ‘Scum of the Earth’, were played"

Hobby, commenting at Prachatai, notes that New Mandala has an interesting write up on the song 'Scum of the Earth'.

From Ben Anderson writing about the slaughter of students at Thammasat University in 1976:

"Radio stations controlled by rightists, and especially the extremist Armored Division Radio, commissioned and played incessantly violent songs such as “Nak Phaendin” (Heavy on the Earth) and “Rok Phaendin” (Scum of the Earth)."

And Thongchai Winichakul writing about the same tragic events:

"Meanwhile military propaganda had dehumanized the radical students, labeling them ‘scum of the earth’ (nak phaendin), the enemy of the “Nation, Religion and the Monarchy”"

This ultra-nationalist vitriol is dangerous on its own but it comes just before the Red Shirt announcement that they will "will make the war against the government" and plan to bring up to a million supporters on the streets during Nov 29 to Dec 3.

While it is doubtful that they will actually get a million supporters (although Nick N did give a rather high estimate of 50,000 to 60,000 at their Saturday Khao Yai gathering which he also blogged about here) it is still a highly combustible scenario.

With PAD calling for blood and the Reds about to pour into Bangkok, Thailand's national political conflict is likely to grow more and more violent over the next few weeks.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Photo of the Day: General Pichet Wisaijorn

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In a Blackhawk helicopter with LT General Pichet Wisaijorn, ISOC Area 4 Commander, over Narathiwat province. November 12, 2009.

Also, the following FCCT announcement is particularly relevant:

Strategies for Combating the Southern Insurgency
An Evening with Lt Gen Pichet Wisaijorn, 4th Army Regional Commander
8pm Weds, November 18th, 2009
(Please see pricing and reservation procedure below)
The seemingly intractable insurgency in the Thailand's southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat is in its sixth year with a death toll of more than 3,500. Separatist violence against civilians, security forces and government officials continues to make the news on a daily basis.

As chief of the Royal Thai Army in the deep South for the past one year, Lt Gen Pichet Wisaijorn commands respect for his dedication to stop the violence once and for all. He focuses not only on military methods but also on development issues, including agricultural and environmental strategies, to improve for Southern residents who are among the country's poorest.

Lt Gen Pichet started his military career in Isaan and maintains a special position in the Queen's Guards [Special Force Military for Queen Sirikit]. He also commanded Thai troops in East Timor in 2000.

Please join us for what will no be fascinating insights into the country's counter insurgency tactics and a discussion of the challenges ahead for Thai government in the restive South.