The current bloody mess created by the Red shirt protests in Bangkok is just an extension of over 40 year of political and social turbulence in the Buddhist-majority Thailand with one common denominator – the inhabitants of three Muslim-majority Southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat who have been resisting Buddist murderous domination and demanding autonomous status for the region. All successive Thai governments have tried to suppress Muslim minority’s genuine desire to manage their affairs based on international justice and human rights. The former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had declared martial law in three Muslim provinces on January 5, 2004 and leashed a state of terror against the local population by the police, army and the armed Buddhist extremist groups. How brutal were Thaksin’s policies in the Muslim-majority region has been documented by Duncan McCargo in his book ‘Tearing Apart the Land’. The Southern provinces essentially formed an independent Muslim state until the turn of the 20th centuryand have chafed at Bankok’s rule ever since. In the 1960s and 1970s, separatists launched a military resistance but by 1990s Bangkok had pacified the Muslim resistance.
The Red-shirts support billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who was convicted of corruption, murder and dictorial rule while living in exile in Dubai. The Yellow-shirts are the supporters of the current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the military coup in 2006 which dumped Thaksin. The military coup of September 19, 2006 – brought General Sondhi (a Muslim General incharge of military operation in Southern Thailand) who was about to be replaced by Thaksin’s cousin Chaiyasit Shinawatra as Army commander.
The Muslim Sultanate of Pattani was occupied by Thai Buddhist regime in 1785 and its formal annexation in 1909.Muslims make vast majority in five Thai provinces of Pattani, Satun, Yala, Songkhla and Narathiwat. The great majority of them are Malay in origin with some Chinese and Muslims from Indian sub-continent. The total Muslim Thai population is estimated to be 6-7 million (10-14% of country’s total population) and rising.
Duncan McCargo in the book Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thialand, wrote: “The security policies of the Thai state in the south were a lamentable catalogue of criminal blunders, negligence, incompetence, lack of co-ordination and sheer misdirection … The militant movement consistently gained the upper hand in the southern border provinces, placing the Thai security forces firmly on the defensive. Initially, there was little to suggest that the insurgency had links to any sort of global Islamist movement, but the subsequent crackdown seems to have helped to transform a local conflict into one with international ties. The Thai army’s response to the crisis in the south attracted the interest of Arab satellite TV stations, Islamist websites, charities and foreign militant groups, to whom some southerners may have looked for guidance. However, the conflict has been largely ignored by the Western press, and the Thai government, eager to keep on attracting tourists, has played it down…..”
“After the 2006 coup, the military, led by a Muslim general, initially attempted to soothe tensions in the south. But conciliation proved futile. By the end of 2008, more than 3000 people had been killed in the south since the beginning of the decade. Bangkok still refuses to consider any form of real autonomy for the region, although many southerners agree that this would be the only solution. The violence has begun to spill into Malaysia, and has ruined any hope of economic integration across the Thai-Malay border.”
“Even in this condition, many Thais still hope that the king might bring the yellow and the red shirts together, for who else is there? Not his son and heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, a hothead who enjoys little respect even among the Thais who idolise his father. Many monarchists, who already despise Thaksin for challenging the power of the king, fear that the crown prince, who is known to be close to Thaksin, will create an opportunity for the exile to return. Few will speculate in public about the king’s future, but everyone tacitly admits that the country, which has muddled through so many crises, might collapse when he dies. According to one Thai legend, the Chakri dynasty, founded in 1782, will perish after its ninth monarch dies. Bhumibol, also known as Rama IX, is the ninth Chakri king.”
The Human Right Groups accused government forces of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture of individuals suspected of involvement with separatists. As a result of a series of attacks by suspected insurgents, tension between the local ethnic Malay Muslim and ethnic Thai Buddhist communities continued to grow, alongside a distrust of security officials.
John J. Brandon, director of Washington-based Asia Foundation, who lived briefly in Bangkok, wrote: “The Thai people need to understand themselves that they must lend their voices in a positive and constructive way in determining whether Thailand can develop into a peaceful, stable nation that meets the aspirations of all its people and contribute positively to Southeast Asia and globaly”.