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05BANGKOK1375 THAI PRIME MINISTER RATTLED BY CRITICS OF SOUTHERN SECURITY ZONING POLICY?

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“27556”,”2/24/2005 7:37″,”05BANGKOK1375″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,

 

“05BANGKOK1233|05BANGKOK1280”,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001375

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, S/CT. HQ USPACOM FOR FPA HUSO.

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/23/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PTER, TH, Southern Thailand

SUBJECT: THAI PRIME MINISTER RATTLED BY CRITICS OF SOUTHERN

SECURITY ZONING POLICY?

 

REF: A) BANGKOK 1280 B) BANGKOK 1233

 

Classified By: Political Counselor Robert Clarke, Reason: 1.4 (d)

 

1. (C) SUMMARY: Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra initially

reacted to critics of his new security zoning policy in

Southern Thailand (Ref A) with a blast of vulgar expletives.

But strong and spreading negative public reaction to his new

plan, coupled with an invigorated media focus on continuing

southern violence, and questioning of heavy-handed tactics

from NGOs, academics, and Privy Counselor General Surayud

Chulanont, appear to have tempered Thaksin\’s response.

Thaksin announced he will send a team of 25 Thai Rak Thai

(TRT) members of Parliament to the deep South (Pattani, Yala

and Narathiwat provinces) to explore ways to address problems

the crisis. After an audience with the King on February 22,

he also called for a special joint session of Parliament in

late March to discuss the South. END SUMMARY.

 

PEACE AND RECONCILIATION NETWORK OBJECTS TO SOUTHERN ZONING

PLAN

 

2. (U) PM Thaksin\’s plan, announced February 16, to

establish a security zoning system in the deep South and cut

off government development and other funding for \”red\” zone

villages (Ref A), has provoked immediate and sustained

criticism. On February 20, the Peace and Reconciliation

Network, a group of academics led by the respected human

rights activist Professor Gothom Arya, released a public

letter asking the Prime Minister to reconsider the zoning

policy. The Network\’s letter stated that the policy would

inflame already heightened tensions between the local people

and the government, especially the security forces. Noting

that mixing development issues with security policy had

proved to be a failure in other countries with similar

problems, the Network suggested that the RTG take a more

public and participatory approach with the affected

communities to resolve problems. In Bangkok, an Assumption

University poll conducted February 17-19 indicated that 63%

of those polled objected to the zoning proposal in the South,

while only 28% agreed with it. Only 38% expressed faith in

the government\’s overall handling of the southern situation.

 

THAKSIN INITIALLY DISMISSES CRITICS WITH HARSH WORDS

 

3. (C) On February 21, PM Thaksin, displaying again his low

tolerance for public criticism, delivered a lengthy tirade

about critics of his southern security policies. In response

to questions from local reporters, Thaksin, said: \”That group

of academics, they hit at me and hit at me, but never make

any constructive suggestions.\” He called into question their

patriotism and further described them using a highly

pejorative reference in Thai, \”meng\”. (Comment: The term, in

colloquial Thai comes from \”mae meung\” or literally, \”your

mother\”. It is widely understood — including by those for

whom it was meant — to mean \”motherf…ers\”. End Comment).

Many media commentators and academics immediately pointed out

that such language should not be used by the PM in public

discourse about such an important and sensitive subject.

Thaksin\’s use of the term made big news in Thailand, where

politeness and proper speech, especially in public, are of

paramount importance, but also because a slip of the tongue

by the PM on national TV makes for a good story.

 

4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

and a XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX activist commented, \”It\’s

unfortunate that instead of listening, the Prime Minister

reacts too quickly with no consideration of our feedback.\”

He said that civil society groups will use both academics and

the media to put the ball back in the PM\’s court to come up

with a sensible solution to the South. He and others are

alarmed that as a result of the general election and Thai Rak

Thai\’s losses in the deep south, Thaskin now sees everyone

\”down there\” as his enemy. (Comment: XXXXXX observations

are especially notable when considering Thaksin\’s statements

on February 19 in his first weekly radio address since the

election. At that time he characterized southern

\”separatists\” as \”that group\” using the Thai word \”mun\”,

another relatively harsh derogatory word for public

discourse, and usually used to refer to animals or objects.

Thaksin has used these terms before to refer to \”the

separatists\” or \”bandits\”, but it is worrisome that his

frustration appears to be escalating. Nobody has forgotten

how his harsh public rhetoric in the 2003 anti-narcotics

campaign created a climate that lent itself to the subsequent

upsurge in extra-judicial killings. End Comment.)

 

BUT ZONING PLAN CRITICS MULTIPLY

 

5. (SBU) Outside of Bangkok, objections to Thaksin\’s zoning

plan have also been strong. Muslim community leaders in the

South have rejected it openly, warning that it will create

further tensions. In significant public comments on February

21, General Surayud Chulanont, a member of the King\’s Privy

Council (and former military Supreme Commander and Army

Commander-in-Chief), responded to the zoning plan by publicly

describing his personal observations during tours to the

South accompanying the son of King Bhumibol, Crown Prince

Maha Vajiralongkorn. He said he had heard firsthand of

villagers\’ perceived sense of injustice at the hands of the

government and was quoted in The Nation newspaper as warning

that the southern separatist insurgency could grown to rival

the 1970s communist movement if not handled properly. \”This

matter is sensitive. People might think they are being

segregated. If this feeling is abused it\’s like throwing oil

onto a fire.\” (Comment: Surayud\’s remarks echo private

statements about the South to the Ambassador on February 16,

per Ref B. It should also be remembered that Surayud has a

history of differences with Thaksin, also recounted in part

in Ref B. End Comment.)

 

THAKSIN MODIFIES POLITICAL HANDLING OF ZONING PLAN, WITHOUT

ABANDONING IT

 

6. (C) The strong opposition appeared to give PM Thaksin

second thoughts about the deep South security zoning plan,

although he has not discarded it. He announced that he would

meet later this week with Former Prime Minister Anand

Panyarachun and Professor Surichai Wankaew, a noted political

science professor at Chulalongkorn University for

consultations on the southern crisis. Then he announced that

he would send a special team of 25 TRT members of Parliament

to the South for three months. Their mission would be to

meet with locals, discuss their grievances, and seek new

answers. This idea met with widespread skepticism. On

February 22, after the Tuesday Cabinet meeting, PM Thaksin

had an audience with the King. Without any reference to that

Royal audience, Thaksin called for the Thai Parliament to

hold a special joint session on March 30-31 to discuss the

southern situation. The idea of calling this type of joint

session, which has been rarely convened, and only in times of

national crisis, had been mooted earlier in the week by Dr.

Surin Pitsuwan, Democrat Party (DP) politician, former

foreign minister, scholar of the South, and a Muslim.

 

7. (C) COMMENT: It was clear in the first few days after his

landslide electoral victory that Thaksin was feeling

unusually confident. However, his brashness in announcing

the security zoning plan as the next step in addressing the

southern violence, Thailand\’s number one domestic issue,

without any consultations (and before he had even officially

been re-selected as prime minister), surprised even his

diehard critics. He himself may, in turn, have been taken

aback by the vehemence of the opposition to the zoning idea.

Aside for the \”usual suspects\” (one of his milder dismissive

terms), he quickly heard clear cautions from General Surayud,

which may also reflect sentiments held by others in the Privy

Council, a power base he cannot ignore. Thaksin may also

have received a signal of displeasure from the King, although

this is conjecture thus far supported only by the timing of

his audience and the subsequent announcement of the special

joint session of Parliament at the end of March. It is not

yet clear whether Thaksin has abandoned the security zoning

plan, or is simply executing a tactical retreat in order to

better sell it politically. The joint session of Parliament

could give him cover for following through with the plan or

for a face-saving dropping of it. END COMMENT.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm

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