Is it really safer to live in the south?

Conflict in southern Thailand - "There are definitely human rights violations by the state"

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In the south of Thailand, a conflict has been simmering for decades between Muslim separatists and the military, but also between the Malay and Buddhist populations. The head of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation's office in Bangkok, Frederic Spohr, knows why a solution is so difficult.

SRF News: What are the goals of the separatists in southern Thailand?

Frederic Spohr: There are different groups with different goals. Their demands range from stronger autonomy rights to a complete separation from Thailand and its own sultanate. What all separatists have in common is that they want more independence from the Thai central state.

What do we know about the rebel groups?

It is a very fragmented movement that little is known about. Some estimates assume that several thousand rebels are under arms, others speak of only a few hundred.

Where is the origin of the conflict? Why does the south of Thailand want more independence?

The conflict is taking place in the country's three southernmost provinces. A majority of ethnic Malay people of Muslim faith live there. This is in contrast to the rest of the Thai people, who are predominantly Buddhists.

The local language should be spoken in the school.

The Muslims are demanding more autonomy, for example that the local language is spoken in schools. A large part of the population in the south is skeptical about the violent struggle of the rebels against the Thai central government.

Are the allegations of the Muslim population justified that they are being disadvantaged compared to the Buddhists?

In Thailand there is largely freedom of belief, there are many mosques and muezzins. So it's not just about religion, the conflict is also ethnic. The Malays have a different culture and language, and many of them are skeptical of the Thai monarchy.

The government is committed to the ethnic Thais and Buddhists.

Why is the Thai government blocking certain autonomy rights for the Malays?

Thai Buddhists also live in the unrest region; they make up up to a third of the local population. The Thai state feels obliged to them. Like no other state in the world, this also wants to give up its claim to rule or even cede territories.

NGOs accuse the Thai army of torture, kidnapping and killings. Are the allegations justified?

There are certainly human rights violations by the Thai state. A young separatist recently died in prison, but the investigation was delayed and yielded no results. The rule of law is clearly restricted in the areas concerned.

The rule of law is restricted in the troubled provinces.

Since 2004, more than 7,000 people have died in the clashes between the army and separatists - how can pacification of southern Thailand be achieved?

The state would have to approach the majority of the Malay population in these areas more closely and grant them more rights, for example with regard to the language. A general democratization of Thailand would be helpful. The reality is rather different. In the government is a party affiliated with the army that came to power in semi-serious elections. It does not see it as its duty to involve the Muslim population in the south.

The interview was conducted by Marlen Oehler.

srf / snep; brut

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  • Comment from Charles Grossrieder (View)
    With the best will in the world, I don't see what this has to do with a general democratization of Thailand, Mr. Spohr? These conflicts in the south have been going on for decades and the rebels are motivated and supported from abroad. Thailand and the royal family have done a lot to bring peace to the area, which is also appreciated by local Muslims. I think rather that without the strong hand of the military, the situation in the south of Thailand would have long since gotten out of hand.
    Agree agree to the comment
  • Comment from jürg straub (xorxe)
    When you talk about human rights violations, you always mean the state and the army. What about the human rights abuses by the rebels who bomb markets and department stores and cafes? I hardly know a more tolerant people than the Thais. That definitely cannot be said of the rebels supported from abroad (Saudi Arabia?) When they kill civilians in particular. The point is that they are unwilling to negotiate and stick to agreements.
    Agree agree to the comment
  • Comment from Margot Helmers (Margot Helmers)
    Muslim Malays are demanding more autonomy. What would the Swiss say if immigrants demanded autonomy or separatism? It's amazing how naturally such people are called "rebels".
    The whole thing reminds me of Burma. There, too, Muslims had made territorial claims in the east.
    Agree agree to the comment

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