BRIDGES : Anand, Surayud urge peaceful resolution

The Nation - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun and ex-Army chief Surayud Chulanont voiced strong opposition yesterday to the government's use of force leading to the Tak Bai bloodbath, and called for a concerted national effort to restore peace in the troubled deep South.

Anand insisted Thailand must not repeat the mistakes that occurred in the Middle East and between Britain and Northern Ireland in its handling of Muslim separatists in the deep South.

The spate of violence in the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat that has already resulted in 500 casualties this year is hopefully only an "aberration", said Anand.

He was speaking at a press conference ahead of the second round of "Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace", a series of speeches and forums that will kick off on December 7. It is organised by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation and the first round was launched last December.

Anand, who was the honorary chairman the first time around, stressed that a culture of peace must be introduced and the government's heavy-handed measures would not help facilitate this.

Peace, he said, depended on educating people to communicate better with others, particularly those who share conflicting opinions.

He said that "civilised conversations" could help resolve people's differences or at least help them respect others' positions without resorting to violent and unnecessary killings.

Both Anand and privy councillor general Surayud agreed yesterday that the Tak Bai incident in October that led to 87 Muslim deaths had been mishandled and anti-riot police should have been deployed instead.

Academics have speculated about Thailand's potential drift into ethnic conflict on the same scale as Sri Lanka, which could retard the country's growth by decades.

Surayud, who is chairman of the advisory board for the second "Bridges" series, said all Thai people must accept responsibility for restoring a climate of peace. The former soldier underscored his belief that the Kingdom had more than its fair share of military abuse in the past.

"It may help if all of us move to heal the situation in the South right now ... If we don't do it ourselves, the situation will only deteriorate," warned Surayud, who also served as supreme commander and is considered one of the most respected military figures in modern history.

Society must be careful not to further polarise Thai Buddhists and Thai-Malay Muslims, said Assoc Professor Surichai Wun-gaew, a senior sociologist from Chulalongkorn University who led the group of 22 academics to meet with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Sunday.

He added that this would be difficult as long as the state tacitly condoned such religious segregation by abducting and killing Muslims there.

"Social injustice lies at the root of the problem and anything that could exacerbate the situation must be avoided," he said.

The second "Bridges" round will start at 2pm on December 7 at Bangkok's Siam University with a keynote speech by Prof Clive W Granger, the 2003 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, on the issue of economics for peace.

Of the 18 Nobel laureates who may be able to help address the problems in the South, 1996 Nobel Peace Laureate Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of East Timor is expected to offer some interesting insights. His was the only audible voice pleading for freedom and peace when the small state was under Indonesian occupation.

The Nation will post a full programme of events continuing until the end of April, with speakers such as former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Readers can also access the programme by logging onto

Pravit Rojanaphruk