TOPICS : Push Muslims too hard and risk a jihad

Marwaan Macan-Markar:

A global human rights watchdog warned the Thai government that its harsh polices to stamp out violence in the country’s predominantly Muslim provinces could trigger sympathy among extremists in the Islamic world.

“It seems like Thailand wants to attract jihadis,” Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, told reporters here Thursday. “The Thai government’s policy is a recipe for attracting such support.” Researchers from the New York-based group monitoring Arabic websites have noticed that the “Thai name has appeared” on them, he added.

The warning by Human Rights Watch is the latest in a string of criticisms levelled against the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for contemplating measures aimed at denying government funds to villages sympathetic to suspected separatists in the country’s predominantly Muslim southern provinces.

Since Thaksin announced his plans on Feb. 16, critics ranging from leading human rights activists to a former chief of the Thai army have denounced the idea. “The policy is discrimination.

It violates human rights and is unconstitutional,” Pradit Charoenthaithawee, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, was quoted in ‘The Nation’ on Sunday.

By mid-week, Thaksin had consented to have his hardline stance discussed during a joint session of the country’s parliament and senate. Yet media repo-rts quoted him as asking: “What should I do? Should I give them (southern insurgents) money to buy more bombs?” The government’s plan seeks to divide nearly 1,500 villages in the troubled provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani into three zones. Development funds worth $750 million will be withheld in the “red zones”, while “yellow zones” will be on the government watch list but will get their share of funds while the “green zones,” are the most favoured, due to the absence of any insurgent activity.

Thaksin unveiled this policy a week after he led his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thai - TRT) party to a landslide victory at the Feb. 6 general elections. It was an unprecedented achievement at two levels: the first time that a prime minister had been re-elected for a consecutive term and the seats the TRT won - 375 in a 500-member parliament - was the largest ever for a single political party.

Yet at the same time, the Malay-Muslim minority in the south turned their backs on TRT, by endorsing the opposition Democrat Party candidates.

Analysts attribute the failure of the TRT to win any of the 11 parliamentary seats up for grabs in the southern-most provinces to the disenchantment stemming from the government’s hardline measures against insurgency.

It seemed to flow from the decision last year to impose martial law, giving the police and army sweeping powers to target civilians, including the right to destroy property belonging to suspected insurgents.

The government has also not been transparent with two emotionally charged events in the south last year - the death of 32 Muslim militants, in April when troops attacked the ultras’ refuge and the October deaths of 78 Muslim protesters while in the custody of the Thai army. — IPS