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07BANGKOK1572 SOUTHERN VIOLENCE: SECTARIAN PASSIONS RISING

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“100503”,”3/15/2007 10:35″,

 

“07BANGKOK1572”,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,

 

“CONFIDENTIAL”,

 

“07BANGKOK1037|07BANGKOK1288|07BANGKOK1385|07BANGKOK1390”,

 

“VZCZCXRO6100

OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #1572/01 0741035

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 151035Z MAR 07

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5590

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 3897

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 6884

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 2854

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY”,”

 

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 001572

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPT FOR EAP/MLS, INR (VINCENT)

NSC FOR MORROW

PACOM FOR FPA (HUSO)

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/14/2017

TAGS: PGOV, PTER, PINS, PINR, ASEC, KDEM, TH

SUBJECT: SOUTHERN VIOLENCE: SECTARIAN PASSIONS RISING

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 01390 (UPDATED VIOLENCE STATISTICS)

B. BANGKOK 01385 (MARCH 8 UPDATE)

C. BANGKOK 01288 (ETHNO-NATIONALISM AND RELIGION)

D. BANGKOK 01037 (REALITY ON THE GROUND)

 

Classified By: Susan M. Sutton. Reason 1.4 (b,d)

 

1. (C) Summary. A series of high-profile incidents in

southern Thailand since March 11 is inspiring growing concern

among South-watchers that the prospect for violent, sectarian

clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in that troubled region

is increasing. These incidents are provoking public outrage

and may lead to reprisals. According to one of our contacts,

elements in the Ministry of Interior are working to inspire

broader, nationwide Buddhist outrage over the violence, in

order to pressure Prime Minister Surayud to toss aside his

reconciliation platform. Surayud publicly reiterated his

support for this policy on March 15 saying \”we will solve

southern unrest only with peaceful means.\” Security

officials on the ground, meanwhile, are increasingly

frustrated by the lack of government action in response to

these attacks, according to a Western contact of ours. These

dynamics increase our concern that local Buddhists, or even

security forces–in particular the irregular paramilitary

\”Ranger\” units–may cross the line, inspiring further

bloodshed, and ushering in a new, more dangerous era of

sectarian conflict. End Summary.

 

LONGSTANDING CONCERNS

———————

 

2. (C) As noted in reftel reports, many local observers of

the southern conflict have noted the lack of overt sectarian

conflict since the January 2004 upsurge in violence. While

Buddhist-Muslim ties in the South have been frayed by the

violence–resulting in significant mistrust between these

groups–for most locals, the fighting has largely not been

defined in religious terms, nor has it resulted in

tit-for-tat attacks between Buddhists and Muslims. Indeed,

despite public statements by some members of the royal family

for Buddhists throughout the nation to support their cousins

in the South, the southern violence has not attracted that

much attention in the rest of the country. That may be

changing.

 

A DARK DAY IN YALA

——————

 

3. (C) In a story that landed on the front pages of Bangkok\’s

newspapers the next day, a commuter minibus carrying

passengers from Yala to Songhkla on a small rural short-cut

was ambushed by suspected insurgents at approximately 8: 00

am on March 14. While hundreds of people have been killed in

drive-by shootings and official vehicles (i.e. those with

uniformed military or police escorts) have taken fire in

similar circumstances, this appears to the first case where

suspected militants blocked the road, forced passengers out

of the vehicle and executed them on the spot. Eight people

were killed and one was critically injured–all were

Buddhists. According to initial press accounts, the driver

of the vehicle was spared after the gunmen determined that he

was Muslim. It is not clear why this van was targeted.

According to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

(protect), the militants knew the route and schedule for this

commuter company, and targeted it specifically because most

passengers are usually Buddhist, and as an effort to \”cut

off\” travel between the deep South and the rest of the

country. Local police officers, however, characterized the

attack as \”random.\”

 

4. (C) The van ambush was followed by two separate attacks on

Malay-Muslims on the evening of March 15. According to Yala

police, at 8:30 pm, a grenade was thrown into a shelter

outside of the Almu Baroh mosque in Yaha district, Yala.

Twelve Malay-Muslim men, ranging in age from 25-73, were

wounded. One hour later, unidentified suspects in a sedan

threw at least one grenade and fired several shots into

crowded tea house in Katong sub-district, Yala. Two men were

killed and another 12 were injured. All were Malay-Muslim.

 

BANGKOK 00001572 002 OF 003

 

5. (C) All three incidents inspired public outrage.

According to press reports, Buddhists as far as away as the

Northeastern provinces of Si Sa Ket and Roi Et protested the

attack on their co-religionists. Meanwhile, police report

that a group of 50 local villagers organized near the mosque

in Yaha on March 15 to protest the grenade attack and demand

an investigation.

 

6. (C) Prime Minister Surayud admitted to reporters on March

15 that the attacks represented a deterioration in the

situation, but reiterated his support for conciliatory

measures. \”We cannot solve this problem in anger…we will

solve southern unrest only with peaceful means.\” According

to press reports, Surayud ordered Interior Minister Aree

Wong-Araya to travel to the South to inspect the region; the

PM also announced his plan to transfer National Intelligence

Agency (NIA) chief Waipot Srinual back to the Ministry of

Defense–it was not clear whether this was tied to the Yala

attacks.

 

7. (SBU) Late afternoon on March 15, GEN Wiroj Buacharoon,

the commander of the 4th Army Region covering the South,

announced on television: a curfew is in effect from 8:00 pm

until 4:00 am in two districts in Yala, local people hosting

overnight visitors must report their guests, citizens should

carry identification cards at all times, and civilians are

prohibited from having personal two-way radios or dressing

like military or police officers.

 

FIRST BUDDHIST COUNTERPROTEST IN PATTANI

—————————————-

 

8. (C) These vicious attacks in Yala were preceded by a

disturbing event in Pattani on March 11. For the first time,

a group of Malay-Muslims protesting the recent arrests of

suspected insurgents was challenged by a Buddhist

counter-protest. According to local police contacts, six

local Malay-Muslims came to the Na Pradu police station on

the morning of March 11 to discuss the recent arrest of their

relatives. Soon after their arrival, almost 100

Malay-Muslims–mostly women, some from Pattani, some from

Yala–arrived to protest the arrests. In response, a crowd

of approximately 100 Buddhists soon gathered, with many

verbally challenging the Muslim crowd. Security

forces–including the all-female Ranger unit–were able to

keep the two sides apart, but according to local police and

press contacts who were at the scene, both sides exchanged

heated words. One elderly Buddhist man attempted to attack

the Muslim side, but was held back by the Rangers. According

to the local chief of police, the counter-protest was not

exclusively Buddhist, but included local Malay-Muslims as

well. (Note: we cannot confirm this. End Note.) After

several hours of peaceful–if boisterous–protest, both sides

dispersed at 11:45 am.

 

BOTH SIDES GEARING FOR A CLASH?

——————————–

 

9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX–who has a strong network

of contacts in the Malay-Muslim and Buddhist communities in

the South–is increasingly worried that the specter of

sectarian violence is approaching. Citing the four incidents

mentioned above, XXXX believes that the insurgents are

focused on provoking a Buddhist backlash, so as to inspire

overly harsh tactics by the government and destroy the idea

of peaceful coexistence between the two faiths–both of which

would increase popular Muslim-Malay support for separation.

According to XXXX, the separatists are switching from

widespread, multiple target attacks (such as the August 2006

Yala bank bombings) to increasingly vicious attacks like the

Yala minibus ambush, that will attract more Buddhist outrage

and, hopefully, reprisals.

 

10. (C) Both XXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

(protect) are concerned about the rising potential for

Buddhist reprisals. Sunai believes that elements in the

Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Army–frustrated by the

 

BANGKOK 00001572 003 OF 003

 

reconciliation approach of the Surayud government–are

agitating for more direct crackdowns on suspected

separatists. Indeed, XXXXXX says that elements of MOI have

been behind the recent protests in the rural Northeast, and

that the Pattani Governor organized the Buddhist

counter-protest in Pattani on March 11. According to XXXX,

MOI officials are trying to sideline those figures–such as

Southern Border Provinces Administration Center (SBPAC) chief

Pranai–who advocate a \”soft\” approach, in part by building

nationwide Buddhist outrage over the violence in the South.

\”They (MOI) are out of control.\”

 

11. (C) Local security officials are frustrated with the

Surayud government\’s \”soft approach\” according to XXXXX,

especially in light of recent separatist attacks. \”They are

close to mutinous.\” (Note: this characterization reflects

frustration with RTG policy and local leadership, not support

for the overthrown of the current government. End Note.)

While not necessarily advocating a severe or overly harsh

crackdown on local separatist suspects, these officials are

frustrated by the lack of action, any action, in response to

the attacks. Sunai is even more pessimistic. While he is

relatively confident that regular Army units and senior

commanders in the South will resist internal pressure to lash

out at the local population, (\”they learned the lesson of

Krue Se and Tak Bai\”,) he is concerned that the irregular

Rangers–whether on their own or as a proxy for regular

forces–may \”cross the line.\” Sunai says that most local

Muslims believe that non-uniformed paramilitary Rangers were

behind the Yaha mosque and tea shop attacks.

 

COMMENT

——-

 

12. (C) Surayud\’s \”reconciliation policy\” has garnered praise

and support from many with long experience in the southern

provinces, who understand that it will take years to restore

peace to the troubled region. For security forces in the

South, and the broader public, reconciliation is a hard sell,

and getting harder all the time. It appears that the

insurgents are intentionally shaping their policies to

provoke a violent response from security forces, furthering

the cycle of violence and disrupting the government\’s efforts

to reach out to the Malay-Muslim population. MOI efforts to

undermine the PM\’s reconciliation policy would not be

surprising, given that local MOI officials and their elected

subordinates are doing a lot of the dying in the South. Open

conflict between the Malay-Muslim and Thai/Sino-Buddhist

communities in the South would represent a major escalation

of the conflict (and would be another blow to the beleaguered

PM.) The situation has not deteriorated to this point yet,

but the trends are disturbing.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 2:39 am

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