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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05BANGKOK6093
2005-09-23 09:56:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Bangkok
Cable title:  

SOUTHERN VIOLENCE: REPERCUSSIONS OF SEPTEMBER 21

Tags:   PGOV  PREL  PTER  KPAO  TH 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 006093 

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, EAP/MLS, S/CT, INR
PACOM FOR FPA (HUSO)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/21/2015
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER KPAO TH
SUBJECT: SOUTHERN VIOLENCE: REPERCUSSIONS OF SEPTEMBER 21
MURDERS

REF: BANGKOK 6051

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



1. (C) SUMMARY: The September 21 murders of two Marines who
were being held hostage at a Muslim village in Narathiwat
province continue to dominate the headlines. The Thaksin
administration has been restrained in its initial response but
has vowed to take decisive measure against the culprits. The
government's tough rhetoric reflects widespread public outrage
over the killings. The Royal Family has treated the two
soldiers as "heroes," according them honors normally reserved
for senior members of Thai society. The murders -- reminiscent
of past mob violence in the South -- happened during a highly
symbolic period and are another significant milestone in the far
South. END SUMMARY

GOVERNMENT VOWS TOUGH RESPONSE


--------------------------





2. (SBU) The September 21 brutal murders of two Thai Marines,
who were being held hostage in a rural village in Narathiwat
province (reftel A), continue to reverberate throughout
Thailand. News of the killing has dominated print and
television coverage. Prime Minister Thaksin, using strong
language, has vowed repeatedly to hunt down those responsible,
saying the Marines "will not die in vain." The government's
response, as of yet, has been restrained. The military has
surrounded the village where the killings took place and has
arrested four suspects. The MFA issued a statement that
portrays the incident as another attempt by separatist militants
to "internationalize the situation" in the far South.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE VILLAGE?


--------------------------





3. (SBU) The RTG is portraying the incident as being
deliberately planned. Military leaders described a small core
group of agitators supported by a larger group of some 50 male
supporters who seized the pair. These groups were then
protected by the several hundred villagers -- mostly women and
children -- who blocked the access of security forces into the
village.



4. (C) Mark Tamthai, a civilian advisor to the NSC and member
of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) was at the
village during the standoff. Tamthai told us that the
military's account of a loosely organized crowd was correct but
opined that the incident "could not have happened
spontaneously." Dr. Panitan Wattanayagom, an expert on southern
Thailand from Chulalonghorn University, said that high ranking
members of the military told him that the incident was
deliberate, noting that the gas tank in the two soldiers' car
had been tampered with so that they could not escape from the
village.



5. (C) Tamthai described a chaotic scene at the village and
confused government response -- with no clear leadership on the

ground -- reminiscent of the October 25, 2004 Tak Bai incident.
Narathiwat Governor Pracha Taerat, on the scene initially, was
called away due to the arrival in Narathiwat of Crown Princess
Sirinthorn. Tamthai reported that Major General Phicet
Wisaijorn, Deputy 4th Army area commander (and former military
academy classmate of PM Thaksin) was on the scene, but did not
appear to be in charge of the situation.

WIDESPREAD OUTRAGE OVER THE MURDERS


--------------------------





6. (C) The popular reaction in Thailand over the brutal
killings should not be understated. In Bangkok, "man on the
street" conversations are filled with angry rhetoric and calls
for retaliation against "ungrateful Muslims." On popular Thai
language websites, chat postings have been filled with strong
language calling for repressive measures, or violence, against
Muslims. Tamthai speculated that widespread anger among the
larger Thai populace would make it very hard for the government
to not respond forcefully to the incident.



7. (C) The murders are also an emotional issue for Muslims in
the South. Tamthai said Muslims see the widespread media
coverage and outcry over the murders as another example of the
general population's bias against them. Tamthai described the
attitude as "they never care when a Muslim is killed, but when a
Buddhist is killed there is a huge amount of attention paid."
Tamthai speculated that incident would be "very divisive"
between the communities.

TEST FOR THE NRC


--------------------------





8. (C) During and after the incident the NRC, and its Chairman
Anand Panyarachun, have been surprisingly silent. Dr. Panitan
told poloffs that any hope for a non-violent response will
depend on Anand, but noted that significantly Anand had not come
forward publicly to urge restraint. Panitan opined that the
NRC's credibility will be negatively affected unless Anand can
do something to calm the situation down. Mark Tamthai, himself
a prominent NRC member, told poloffs he is worried that the
situation is a serious set back for reconciliation efforts, and
said he was "disheartened" by the series of events.

ROYAL ATTENTION TO THE MURDERS SENDS STRONG PUBLIC SIGNAL


--------------------------



--------------------------





9. (C) On September 22, Princess Sirinthorn, the most highly
revered member of the royal family besides the King, personally
presided for a royal water ceremony over the remains of the two
murdered soldiers at a Buddhist temple in Narathiwat. The
ceremony was broadcast live nationwide on all major channels.
Individual wreaths from the King, Queen, Crown Prince and other
members of the royal family were also presented at the temple.
The Crown Princess also announced that she would pay for a house
and scholarships for family members of the slain Marines.

CONCERN ABOUT "RETALIATION"


--------------------------





10. (C) PM Thaksin has vowed to treat the culprits "with an
iron fist in a velvet glove," leading to widespread speculation
among local observers that security forces will be given even
wider latitude to target suspected militants. Gothom Arya, a
prominent human rights leader and also an NRC member, told
poloffs that he is very concerned that this incident would lead
to the military being given the "shoot to kill" order on Muslims
suspected of involvement in the insurgency. Dr. Panitan also
speculated that the incident would lead to retribution from
security forces. Panitan, who often consults with the Thai
military and Royal Family on the South, said that he had spoken
with senior military leaders and had been told that the Marines
"will have their revenge." Panitan said that he had urged that
the Marines be pulled out of the region and replaced with units
not emotionally involved in the latest incident.



11. (C) This latest incident could reinforce the already
serious estrangement between the ethically Malay Muslim
population of the far South and the central government. Dr.
Panitan is concerned that the government's response and overall
"simplistic" strategy towards the South are having the affect of
driving a disparate Muslim community together. Panitan also
noted that the government tended to collectively blame and
punish southern Muslims, reinforcing the "us versus them"
mentality in the South.

POOR TIMING FOR LATEST INCIDENT


--------------------------





12. (C) The timing of the hostage taking/murders could not
have been worse. We are approaching Ramadan, and the October 25
anniversary of the Tak Bai tragedy. The killings themselves
took place during the period when the Queen is supposed to begin
her annual stay in Narathiwat. (NOTE: The Queen was originally
scheduled to arrive to arrive in Narathiwat on September 12, but
postponed her visit because of severe back problems which were
clearly evident in a recent public ceremony. Embassy sources
say she will travel to Narathiwat on September 26. END NOTE)

A PATTERN OF CROWD VIOLENCE?


--------------------------





13. (C) This incident appears to follow earlier instances of
apparent manipulated crowd violence seen in the South. In
April, 2003 -- also in Narathiwat's Ra Nage district -- two
Border Patrol officers were surrounded by a large crowd of
villagers after rumors spread that the pair were "ninjas,"
responsible for recent deaths in the area. After a period of
negotiations where officials failed to win their release, the
two policemen were beaten to death. Eyewitness accounts of the
Tak Bai incident also describe how rumors were used to gather
and agitate a crowd while a core group of young male instigators
worked to direct the crowd's anger. Given the general level of
fear and paranoia in the South it is easy to see how a small
group of organized militants could create these scenarios.

COMMENT: ANOTHER BAD MILESTONE IN THE SOUTH


--------------------------





14. (C) The September 21 murders is another significant
milestone in the situation in southern Thailand. Senior
officials in the NSC told polcouns and visiting EAP/MLS Director
that the RTG is aware that this incident was a "trap" meant to
provoke a reaction and attract international attention. Despite
their awareness of the "trap," and initial restraint, the RTG's
likely response will be to do exactly what the militants want --
a divisive, harsh crackdown.



15. (C) COMMENT CONT. The participation of Princess Sirinthorn
in the bathing ceremony is highly symbolic act, and sends a
strong signal to the public. Normally, a member of the royal
family will only preside over such a ceremony for a very high
ranking person or someone who has performed distinguished
service for the Thai state. The ceremony's many strong symbols
-- especially pictures of the Princess anointing the bodies
while surrounded by Thai flags -- will not be missed by average
Thais. The fact that the ceremony took place in a Buddhist
temple -- located in the middle of an overwhelmingly Muslim
province -- sends a very different message to the majority
ethnically Malay Muslims who call Narathiwat their home. There
was no royal ceremony for the two Muslims killed the night
before the two Marines were killed; and no royal scholarships
were given to their families. The Princess's extraordinary role
underscores the tremendous public outrage over the incidents
which will certainly further polarized the Buddhist and Muslim
communities. END COMMENT
BOYCE