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interview with Anand Panyarachun

The ThailandCIA The World Factbook

YI: So, they feel a kind of injustice?

Panyarachun: Yes, that's the major problem. Of course, there are several other problems, major issues -- be they historical or cultural. Our report, which will be completed by the end of March, would cover all these areas. The reclamation of respect of the diversity of our culture, particularly, we have to stress more on the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. Secondly, we need to prepare ourselves in the education field, not in the education per se, but as a means for the people to earn their livelihoods. We have the address the questions of the governing process: are we in the area focusing on greater participation in the decision making process on matters which pertain to their daily lives. We have to look at the economic development model, which has to be in line with the people's beliefs and their ways of living. Because, as you know, Islam, unlike some other religions, dictates in a way the way of life of the adherents to that particular faith.

YI: The Muslims in Thailand are a minority. So, basically what you're saying is this is how the government is perceiving the problem of how to deal with a minority. From your answer just now, will they have a lot more freedom?

Panyarachun: No. I'm talking about greater participation. This is a country of 62 million people. Out of 62 million people, we have about 4 or 5 million Muslims. So, it is a “Buddhist country" but of course, traditionally, historically they have been sort of a cohesive society. There has never been any trouble. The anomaly is that in the three southernmost provinces they are not the minority. They are the majority. So, out of about 1.8 or 1.9 million people in the south, in the three southernmost provinces, Muslims constitute 1.5 million and Buddhists constitute 300,000 to 400,000. So the are a majority in the three southernmost provinces, and yet they are a minority in the country and they are a majority in the entire Southeast Asia region. So, you such anomalous situations. Now, so out of 4 or 5 million Muslims in the whole of Thailand, 1.5 million is down south. So, there's still over 3 million Muslims outside of these southern provinces. These 3 million Muslims never had any problems. Never. Totally no problems. You can see that they have not been discriminated against either. They might have been some prejudices. But in the bureaucracy, we've had a Thai Muslim who's been a foreign minister --Khun Surin Pitsuwan. There's been a Muslim who was speaker of the House of Representatives. Now, the commander-in-chief of the Army is a Muslim. The President of the Administrative Court is a Muslim. And if you go to any ministry, you will see this. But the difference is that in the three southernmost provinces, they are Muslims of Malay ethnicity. And they've been there for such a long time. I think, in a way, we are victims of our successes in the past, in the sense that we have been to assimilate the Chinese, the Japanese, the Khmers, the Laotians, the Burmese and they have all become Thais after the second, third or fourth generations. So, many Thais are asking, why is it that we haven't been able to assimilate the Thai Malay Muslims. So this is a kind of a problem that we have to deal with, that you have to try to explain to the rest of the country that this is a special situation, that we have to respect their ethnicity. In the same way, if the rest of Thailand did not feel sort of threatened, they don't problems with the Khmer-speaking Thais in Buri Ram, the Lao-speaking Thais in the northeastern part of the country, or the Northerners speaking a northern dialect or the Southerners speaking a southern dialect. We have to bring ourselves to understand that the Malay language spoken in that area is in fact, the regional dialect.

YI: So, who are these people, creating such instability in the south? Are they separatists, are they terrorists or just criminal elements?

Panyarachun: I don't think the separatism issue is a big problem. It is a symptom. I think it has to do with the -- if you take the historical point of view -- definitely the intelligentsia in that area. I'm not saying that they want to go back to a situation 300 years ago, because Pattani was once a big trading empire. But I think they still cherish the reputation of Pattani being a center of Malay culture. Pattani at one time, was a very important trading post and also, they still recall the glorious days of Pattani, not as a trading post, but as a center of Malay culture, like other Malay centers in the southern part of the peninsula. Secondly, I think they have been victims of injustices, of mistreatment by the people sent down from Bangkok. And thirdly, I think that they have also been victims of illegal businesses and definitely, of corruption in the area. So, I think you cannot pinpoint to one particular issue, there are several root problems that have to be dealt with simultaneously. In some areas, we may be able to act faster, but in some other areas, it's sure to take time, particularly on areas or issues which pertain to the mindset. And you have to deal with the rest of the country too, because many Thai Buddhists also, sort of don't understand the issues clearly. So it has to be a reconciliation not only between the government and the state authority and the people in the south. It's a kind of reconciliation between the people in the south, predominantly Muslims, with the rest of the country.

YI: So, it's reconciling the conservative elements from both sides?

Panyarachun: Yes. You have the neo-conservatives, right. That's why when they talk about the Clash of Civilizations, I think they're barking up the wrong tree. It's not a clash of civilizations, it's a clash of the two extremes. There could have been people who made use of the religion as a façade, as a pretext.

YI: You don't discount external influence or factor?

Panyarachun: No, no external influence, except of course, there has been some funding but I don't think the money that came through perhaps Singapore, Malaysia, perhaps in Thailand meant to be used as ‘terrorist activities.' What is happening in Thailand has been exaggerated by the media here in Thailand, and as a result by the international press. If you look at the internet, of course there were some incidents about a couple of years ago, not this last year. But all these incidents are isolated. They use primitive devices. There have been no clashes. It's foolhardy to try to compare it to Aceh or to southern part of the Philippines, or to whatever. All these issues are hard to solve. How long did it take Aceh to be resolved. But thanks to the tsunami... So fate has a way of playing tricks on people. I'm fairly hopeful. But, of course, at the moment everything is at a standstill because we don't have a government that is functional, functioning fully. So, I think, in a way the southern problem has been put aside.

YI: You complete your report in March, and you will then submit it to the government.

Panyarachun: And simultaneously to the public.

YI: So in order to identify, understand and create mechanisms for addressing these political grievances that we spoke about, would the Reconciliation Commission go beyond its current mandate and take on broader consultative processes?

Panyarachun: No. I take it literally that we are a commission to look into the root cause to find the appropriate policies and measures to make recommendations to the government and once we have made those recommendations, basically the Commission ceases to function, unless the government would like us to do something else, either collectively or individually.

YI: You sound optimistic that the solution will come to the problem in southern Thailand.

Panyarachun: I'm not a professional politician, but I've regularly been involved in the political process, and I think that if you're not an optimist you better get out of the kitchen.

YI: Well, thank you Khun Anand for a very interesting and very informative dialogue.

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