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Thailand may have solution to India's Naxal problem

August 08, 2010 17:59 IST

As India grapples with a raging Maoist insurgency, it could take a leaf or two from Thailand's "soft power" approach aimed at dealing with the unrest in its three Muslim-dominated restive provinces.

Thailand is investing a whopping $2 billion for the period between 2009 and 2012 in three insurgency-hit provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat to upgrade the social and economic infrastructure of the region.

"Through the doctrine of soft power we are winning the hearts and minds of people. We try to bring justice and social and economic development in the lives of people. This is the reason that violent incidents have come down," Colonel Songwit Noonparkdee, a top Thai military officer, said in this restive province in south Thailand.

Earlier, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said his government was determined to achieve stability and peace in south Thailand through justice and development. "We have comprehensive economic development targets for lifting the locals up. We recognise much needs to be done."

"Our plan is to understand, reach out and develop. Peace and harmony will return only when people feel they are given respect and justice and share a common destiny of living together," he had said.

In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist threat as the biggest internal threat to the country's security.

Naxal violence in India has claimed the lives of over 10,000 civilian and security personnel in the last five years with significant rise in the number of killings in Left-wing extremism-hit states, according to the home ministry.

Meanwhile, the Thailand military is extremely apologetic about the 2004 Tak Pai incident in which 78 men were suffocated to death.

Hundreds of men were stacked five to six feet deep into the trucks by the military in which they died. The event led to anti-military sentiments, in particular among the Muslims and in general all over Thailand.

"We need to learn from incidents like Tak Pai. It should not be repeated. To control violence we use soft power, we want to win people to our side by providing them medical help, employment, economic development and doing civilian works," Noonparkdee said.

There are 30,000 Thai troops in the restive southern region but the military claims that over half of them are in non-combat mode and have been engaged in developmental activities in the three restive southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.

The Thailand military is building its local units consisting of Muslims for a pro-active conflict. In Narathiwat, the military said, 4,000 Muslim soldiers are engaged in counter-insurgency operations.

The military plans that as the situation becomes normal, it would hand over power to local units.

Thai military is running self-sufficiency Muslim villages in the restive Pattani province. It is also running hospitals in the provinces to win over the people. There are an estimated 2,000 villages consisting of two million population in the three restive provinces.

When Abhisit Vejjajiva assumed the Premiership in 2008 he pledged to find a political solution to the separatist movement. However he has increasingly adopted the stance of his predecessors, repeatedly renewing the state of emergency across the region and thereby giving wide-ranging powers and immunity from prosecution to security forces operating there.

More than 4,000 people -- both Buddhists and Muslims -- have been killed in the three southern provinces of Thailand in the last six years in insurgency-related violence.

Insurgency in the Muslim-dominated southern Thailand is attributed to historical, cultural and economic reasons, including resentment among the local population to the 200 years of Thai occupation and the 1960 settlement of northeastern Thais in the region.

Allegations are also abound of cultural and economic imperialism in Pattani and of brutality and corruption by security personnel in the region.
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