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Building Peace and People's Security in Southeast Asia
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Peace building approach in the southern border provinces


Violent conflict in the southern border provinces of Thailand is complex and characterized by the use of violence by the government, the opposition to the government who seek to end state oppression as well as by influential people involving in illegal businesses such as drug, weapon and human trades. One cause of the conflict comes from the fact that there are a number of people gaining interests from it. Violence will prolong in the area. Therefore, a peace process must be initiated by the civil society sector.

Although the state has tried to gain supports from people in the area, it still faces difficulties due to the lack of efficient law enforcement, justice and protection for innocent people. The use of violence may be able create fear among people, but it destroys legitimacy of those who use it. The state should be cautious not to spread anger among people as it might become a chain of hatred and vengefulness that drives people to hurt each other without reasons. Unfortunately, it has been insensitive and unable to realize such problems. It continues to use security reasons to expand power and increase budget in the area.

Conflict Prevention (CP)

Conflict in the deep-south will not end easily because several parties still benefit from the violence industry. To prevent further conflict, there is a need to create bargaining power to people living in the area in order to counter such influential groups. It is important that people can recognize changes and can adjust themselves accordingly. People must have power to properly manage their natural resources. Ordinary people must be given an opportunity to participate in every level of decision making.

Conflict prevention must pay attention to public’s knowledge and their understanding on the ground situation. This is to prevent them from supporting policies that might lead to more violence and allow the government to use force which will further deteriorate the situation. It is easy for humanity and justice to be destroyed in a war situation. The media is another group that activists working in conflict prevention must work with.

Conflict transformation

Conflict transformation in the southern border provinces must follow a direction that support people’s life security. In previous discussions with the locals, villagers view stability of mind and spiritual stability that existed within the principles of Islam, their own religion, as most important. The next important thing is the security of the natural resource upon which villagers live their economic and social life.

Conflict transformation may start positively by using humanity as a means to solve problems, creating relationships between people, emphasizing on horizontal relationships by helping victims of the situation, both from the government and people’s sides.

Intervention

Peace activists must acquire knowledge on history of civil war in many countries in the past two decades and learn their lessons as well as lessons of the civil society sector in the situation.When a vast number of citizens suffer war and violence, there is a need for humanitarian intervention. But intervention by force needs to be considered with care on its levels, length of time. It also needs to consider what could guarantee sovereignty, and the quick return of peace for people who live in particular community or country after each intervention.

Experiences from many countries that have gone through an intervention by either UN Peace Keeping Forces or forces from the Superpower indicate a high level of natural resource exploitation. “Revolution is not for export”, which was a lesson learned from the Cold War, Vietnam War and recently Iraq War, is still a point to consider in the context of globalization and Islamization that is sensitive to problems.

Intervention that might benefit people in the country is an intervention to strengthen the people sector in order for them to protect their own community. Perhaps the people sector around the world has to work harder and seek for each other’s solidarity. World peace movement needs to work harder than campaign to end certain wars from time to time.

Reconciliation

The new round of violence that has erupted in the past few years happen in a context that has been changed. The forms of violence are also different from what they used to be. Violence is now used against everybody regardless of their religious backgrounds. Civilians become the main target. It results in a destruction relationship between Buddhist and Muslim citizens as never before. Therefore, reconciliation movement in Thailand has begun before the conflict ends.

In the first stage of the conflict the government established a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) to help looking for a solution to the conflict in the confusing situation. There were active discussions on the issue of reconciliation. Several activities were identified as a part of the reconciliation process. Those were, the establishment of a horizontal relationship between people from different backgrounds, working within socio-cultural dimension to revive local relations and link up people in the area (mainly Muslims) and people in the rest of the country (Buddhists).

Democracy

The expansion of authoritarianism is a worrisome phenomenon. Dr. Chaiwat Satha-anand, a Thai academic who has been working on peace issue, called the elected government under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawat , which received overwhelming votes, an authoritarian democracy. The government that seemed to be democratic and justified itself by the election process ended up using its power illegitimately. For example, the government initiated a “war on drug” policy that bypassed the judiciary system and pave ways for extra-judicial killings of drug suspects throughout the country. Its policy to counter “bandit terrorists” in the southern border provinces led to kidnapping and killings, giving an unlimited power to the police while many innocent people paid the price.

Authoritarian democracy did not end with the Thaksin regime. When the military staged a coup d’ tat in 2006, after 15 years without it, the cloak of democracy was torn apart, leaving Thailand with pure authoritarianism. Later, with an attempt to create a new gown of democracy through a new election, state authority over south Thailand was transferred from the police to the military.

As a “developing country”, Thailand’s nominee democracy is controlled by money, power and influences. Government policies have also been manipulated by the rich countries. Thus, there is still a long way to go before Thailand gains the type of democracy that reflects the needs of the majority.

Public opinions are also controlled by the directly and indirectly control of the media. Television, in particular, which is able to report news and images faster, still lacks details and analysis. The early stage of the conflict, television coverage on the violence in the area only reported hatred and fear the same way the 9/11 incident was reported. This has tempted the public to support the use of forces without rational thinking.

What is the spirit or substance of democracy? People organizations and NGOs have been trying to promote democracy that is eatable, or democracy that solves people’s economic problems. They also promote natural resource management by the community or community rights, equal access to natural resources for the poor, freedom from being taken advantage of by the Free Market System, freedom to maintain their natural resources without by exploited by the local, national and international capitals, and the rights for information and expression.

A movement of the people sector is an important element of direct democracy and participatory democracy. Only substantial democracy movement can solve the existing complicated problems of the present day.

Ground dynamics

- Condemnation on violence conducted by both state apparatus and non state agents and destroys lives of the innocent is a necessary measure to protect human rights.

- Ineffective and brutal government forces on the ground are still the main factor in the expanding of violence and the violation of human rights.

- There is an attempt within the professional military circle to apply political means over security. They are also interested in the issue of human rights.

- Human rights groups must increase their credibility and must recognize cooperation between human rights and social works. They must also increase efforts to work with the healing groups.

- The judiciary system is still trapped within bureaucracy and unable to deliver justice and credibility to people.

- Peace in the framework of critical peace does not only mean a ceasefire, it also means solving the root causes of violent conflicts.

- The fact that the state tends to pour money and forces into the area, and creates several mega projects to raise more budget, will put civil servants against the people in the name of development. For example, there is now an attempt to reinstate the Sai Buri Dam Project, which was strongly protested against by villagers living in the project area about ten years ago. Some civil servants cooperated with influential sub-district heads in threatening villagers to prevent their further protesting.

- An establishment of a space to scrutinize public policies and budget allocation is a way to create peace because it helps prevent the extension of violence industry.

- The work to strengthen people in the community must be based on the principles of freedom, equality, solidarity, reconciliation and joint-responsibility.

- Women’s role in peace building in the area has become more important after the street block incidents led by women and children during 2006 and 2007.

- Youth groups have gown and been better organized since the demonstration at the Central Mosque in 2007 and the closure of the Prince of Songkhla’s Pattani Campus to demand for a 5-day Hari Raya holidays in 2008.

- Healing groups have developed to be a better-organized-cooperation with the state and NGOs.

- Health care system that responds to Islamic principles is welcome by people in the area.

- Local people are willing to cooperate with education management that responds to Islamic principles.

Paradigm shift

Superpower leaders are quick to point at terrorism as a threat to the world. But many studies argue that terrorism is only a minor threat against humanity compared to the others.

The root causes of conflicts and instability that indicate future conflicts are:

  1. Climate change
  2. Competition over resources
  3. Marginalization of the majority world
  4. 4. Global millitarisation

The existing security policies in the world are nothing but a future threat to themselves. There is a need for a “sustainable security paradigm” that does not emphasize only on the termination of threats (to stop the symptom) by force, but also aims at solving the root cause of those threats. This can be done by using the most effective tool (to cure the decease) which is to link the issues of peace, development and environment more than it has even been done before. Lessons learned from five years of work to eliminate violence in the southern border provinces have proved to us that the “controlled-security paradigm” has failed to create peace. Instead, it has led to a more expansion of violence. The “sustainable-security paradigm” will give an opportunity to very sector of the society to look for more alternatives to deal with different types of threats.

As mentioned earlier, problems of the southern border provinces are complex and full of related factors. They have several root causes instead of one. Any attempt to generalize those problems as security problems using the old way of thinking will not help solving them. As the problems are prolonged, there is a need to find a long-term solution to them. The state and people are facing several challenges. International factor is another related factor to the problems. It is important to seek for cooperation with the international community.

Killings, destruction, threats and arresting have created deep-rooted hatred, fear and vengeful sentiment in the society. Although reconciliation cannot be easily done, it seems to be the only solution to the problems. The creation of trust, respect to human rights and justice as well as rules of law are crucial for future reconciliation approach.


Strategy to promote of human security in the southern border provinces: freedom from fear and want

  1. Transform the concepts of the rights to human security and critical peace into practical works. The creation of social awareness, education and development on the concepts can be done without much difficulty because basic needs among people on the ground already exist.
  2. Support people’s group activities such as healing, humanitarian, charity, rights or environmental groups. The grouping of people must be diverse and must go beyond community, religion, culture and status. This is to do away the situation in which people fall victims to violence, and to encourage them to look for economic, political and cultural solutions together.
  3. Promote the idea of public space as a space to seek for solution to public problems. Those problems are such as the issues of education management that responds to people’s way of life and social change. Such public space will give an opportunity to different groups of people in the area to express their thoughts. It will help people to learn and solve their problems together such as to campaign for student scholarship, to solve malnutrition problems in children, to seek help for orphans and abandoned children.
  4. Support women, youth and elderly groups in order for them to gain economic, social and political space.

Ekkarin Tuansiri
Posted with permission of the author



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Research Center for Peace Building (Old) Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University
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