Can Redshirts save Patani?-Bangkok Post

May 5, 2012


South may stay the loneliest planet of all

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post: May 5, 2012


It is better late, proverbially speaking, than never. Nine months after she won the election to become prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra last Sunday visited the deep South for the first time since she took office. Surrounding her at a Pattani barracks – for the well-dressed dignitaries wouldn’t be so foolhardy as to step out of the fenced quarters – were high-profile ministers and generals. The visit was on April 29, a day after the 8th anniversary of the harrowing siege of the Krue Se mosque, on April 28, 2004, in which soldiers killed 108 people and left dozens more widowed and orphaned in multiple places including Saba Yoi district in Songkhla and Krong Penang district in Pattani. At Krue Se alone, 32 people were killed.

The Krue Se incident – in certain circles, that’s a euphemism for a massacre – began at dawn when Muslim trouble-makers armed with knives attacked police checkpoints in Yala, Pattani and Songkhla. The military responded Hollywood-style, building up to a tense crisis that ended with the soldiers shelling the 200-year-old mosque where the agitators had holed up. Terrorists or not, the men weren’t saved by religious sensitivity or architectural heritage. Five officers were also killed. For the first time, even from the newspapers, we felt what it must be like to live in the Palestinian territories.

What happened at Krue Se eight Aprils ago remains one of the worst episodes of state-committed violence in our modern history. Worse, if we allow the vice of faceless statistics, than the killings of 91 protesters at Ratchaprasong in 2010 by “unknown” parties. Worse, because at Krue Se, we know who was fighting who, and who killed who. Investigations long concluded that the military over-reacted, but no charges were pressed.

The last time I went to Krue Se mosque was almost two years ago. The muezzin still called out, and the prayers continued as usual. One local pointed to me the pockmarked holes left by bullets on its wood and brick walls. The way he did that told me there were other scars lodged in his chest, for the most brutal wounds are always the invisible ones. Like Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia cathedral, the Krue Se mosque of Pattani is perpetually unfinished, perched between accidental minimalism and sad uncertainty. It stands as a forlorn testament to the doubt and broken peace that have plagued the restive region, especially of late. Actually, a spate of violence killing soldiers and civilians greeted the 8th anniversary of the Krue Se incident last week before the PM’s visit.

The last time Ms Yingluck went to the deep South was to campaign for the July 2011 election, when the muslimah there threw a red hijab over her head. Still, the Pheu Thai Party didn’t win a single seat in the three southernmost provinces. The official purpose of last Sunday’s visit was largely economic-related. She didn’t visit Krue Se (according to Isra news reports, she didn’t leave the barracks at all), though the PM did arrange to meet a woman widowed by the 2004 clash, who thanked her for the 7.5 million baht in compensation but also wondered if the procedure to get it would be free of double standards and other intrigues. She and other victims have waited eight years not just for reparations, but also for some clarity – some kind of justice or closure, maybe – and it seems even after the cash has been paid she still has to wait some more.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Nattawut Saikuar was in the PM’s entourage. His main concern was the price of rubber, for that’s how the southern man can begin to woo southern voters. But I also have other hopes for him: this is the man who has vociferously spoken out against structural injustice and officially sanctioned violence. This is the man who disdains the military. This is the man who has expressed a strong, sincere wish to find some clarity, some closure, or some form of justice, for the killings of 91 people at Ratchaprasong – that must be done, the quicker the better – and I hoped with all my heart he would feel the same about southerners’ plight. It’s surprising in fact, that Mr Nattawut hardly ever includes the South in his impassioned speeches on equality and social justice, despite the glaring, continuing, worsening situation down there.

And if Mr Nattawut’s chum, Jatuporn Prompan, becomes the deputy interior minister as rumour has it, we should expect the same from him, for he will then have the power to institute the rule of justice – or at least a semblance of it – that he always campaigned for during the red shirt protests. Unless he didn’t mean it to include the South. Unless the South starts voting for his party first. Unless his justice has a geographical jurisdiction, in which case the deep South will remain the loneliest planet of all.



Kong Rithdee writes about movies and popular culture for the Bangkok Post.



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