SOUTHERN STRIFE: MPs fly down to seek out solutions

News

Briefed by General Sirichai, met with locals and religious leaders in Pattani; Abhisit and Democrats also visit

Twenty-nine government MPs yesterday headed South on a mission to collect information from locals as the government tries desperately to find solutions to the violence that has wracked the region for more than 12 months.

Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapanlop, in charge of the team, said yesterday he was confident the group would gather useful information.

“We want to meet people from all the parties involved – local residents, community and religious leaders – so that we can gather as much information as possible,” Suwat said.

“We expect to spend about a month or two [there]. We will later report our findings to the prime minister.”

The politicians flew to Narathiwat yesterday morning aboard the prime minister’s official jet “Thai Khufa” and returned to Bangkok in the evening. They will return next when the new Cabinet has been formed.

A source said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra allowed the team to use “his” plane to show honour for the politicians representing him.

The politicians later took a helicopter to the Southern Provinces Peace-Building Command (SPBC) in Yala, where commander General Sirichai Tunyasiri briefed them.

Suwat said his team’s presence would supplement the SPBC’s work as “the southern problem has many dimensions”.

Deputy Prime Minister Somsak Thepsuthin said the team would officially begin its work next week.

Each of the team members had been assigned a particular district in one of the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, he said.

In addition to listening to problems the locals face, the politicians will also gather information about separatist ideas being spread there, a source said.

The politicians yesterday met local residents and religious leaders at Pattani’s provincial hall, amid heavy security provided by soldiers.

Vehicles arriving at the hall were searched for explosives and visitors faced stringent security measures.

Some local residents said that they did not think the mission would help, as long the government seemed insincere.

They said the government appeared to have ignored Muslim beliefs in bringing certain projects to the region. One example was using lottery revenue to fund a scholarship programme for Muslim students.

Religious teacher Abdulroni Kahama said it was against Islamic values to accept money earned from gambling.

Meanwhile in Pattani, Abhisit Vejjijiva, the Democrat Party’s caretaker leader, led a group of key party figures to a meeting with local business, community and religious leaders.

He called on the government to adhere to democratic principles and rely more on local wisdom to solve problems in the region.

Published on March 01, 2005

Piyanart Srivalo

The Nation