07 August 2008

Patani- The forgotten suffering (Draft 1)

26 July 2008- The former Malay kingdom of Patani is composed of what are now the three Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. They are home to 1.8 million Muslims or 80 percent of the populace. The most that people from other countries know about this region, is that it has a majority Muslim population in a country which is overwhelmingly Buddhist.

Like many of the states in island Southeast Asia, its rulers and then its people embraced Islam and this led them into various societal and behavioural norms that differentiated them from non-Muslim people. Diet, dress and language were all affected, for example.

Thus, The General Union of the Patani Revolutionary Students held a Patani cultural day at the University of Damascus on Saturday 26 July 2008. The event, which showcased the dress, music, language, dance and martial arts of the Patani people, was attended by university students from many different countries.

Almost without exception, university students from all over the world knew little of the suffering and abuse that the people of Patani are enduring. The people of Patani, who have been resisting the suppression of their language and culture by the Thai authorities, have met the most brutal of torture and oppression which has largely escaped any significant attention of global media. The wish of the Patani people to obtain independence from Thailand has led to the deaths of hundreds in an armed struggle that has intensified over the last couple of years.

The issue goes back to the arrival of the British in the region. With the seizure of both Malaya and Burma, a very pronounced threat to the Siamese throne appeared, since Siam became squeezed on all sides. The Malayan peninsula became something of a buffer state between British and Siamese and gradually the questionable territory in between was annexed by one side or another. In 1902, Patani finally came under formal control of the Siamese throne.

The southern region has a heavily Malay-speaking Muslim population, which historically formed the Muslim kingdom of Patani until it succumbed to Siamese control in the 1700s. People here share similar cultures and habits with the Malay Muslims in Malaysia, but Bangkok has traditionally suppressed their identity, for example by discouraging the use of the Malay language. This cultural imperialism has been opposed by the Malays, culminating in an armed struggle in 1948 by Patani Muslims to break away from the kingdom, and again in the 1960s by the Patani United Liberation Army, the armed wing of one Thai group, the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), whose members laid down arms in response to Bangkok’s blanket amnesty in the 1990s.

The people of Patani feel not just that their independence has been taken from them but that their traditions and history have been suppressed. Siamese (and now Thai) authorities have taken steps to try to integrate the Kingdom into one people. Thai Muslims have long complained of heavy-handed practices by the military in the South.

Ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra flooded the south with 30,000 troops and police, further alienating the Muslim population, especially after 78 Muslim men arrested after a protest died of suffocation in army custody.
After Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont travelled to the south to apologize for the heavy-handed military response, but the "hearts and minds" campaign failed to stop the violence. Mr. Surayud apologized for the harsh policies of his predecessor during his six years in office, promised to investigate abuses and restructured the military command for the south.

After General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the former coup leader of Thailand’s military government, offered to negotiate with the ‘insurgents’, PULO, which is often accused of perpetrating attacks in the south, welcomed the suggestion of dialogue by General Sonthi, amid accusations by pro-Thaksin and anti-Muslim voices in Bangkok that Sonthi was being pro-Muslim.

Kasturi Mahkota, PULO’s exiled foreign affairs spokesman in Sweden, even said that PULO were prepared to talk about autonomy: something that had previously been non-negotiable in the Muslims’ quest for complete independence. Speaking in Damascus, Mahkota said that his organisation is fully committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The situation appears rarely in global mainstream media, even though more than 3,000 people have died in recent years. Most have been innocent bystanders, both Buddhists and Muslims. The question is whether the Thai authorities take any serious steps towards a reasonable solution while there is such media silence from this region.

1 comment:

Abu Arman said...

Salaam,

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The e-Book is excellent, the best and most up-to-date account of the Patani conflict yet.