A Thai government policy review of the largely Muslim southern provinces is considering granting greater local autonomy with reforms including introduction of Sharia Law through Islamic courts. The strategy is part of efforts to bring to an end a
five-year insurgency that has cost more than 3,000 lives.
The policy review began soon after the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva came to office in December. Speaking to foreign correspondents earlier this year, Abhsit set out the government's policy goals: The only long-term solution
must be done through a comprehensive package that covers well beyond the security dimensions, but also addresses the issues such as economic development as well as addressing education and cultural diversity in the provinces," he said.
The government plan includes setting up a special office headed by a minister in charge of affairs in the Southern provinces.
A Thai government review paper, an English translated copy of which was obtained by VOA, says people in the region consider themselves Pattani Malays rather than Thai.
The review paper calls on government to adopt a strategy that is largely peaceful and suggests a military solution will fail to win local community support, even if it succeeds in imposing control.
Policy review options include a specially elected local chamber of government, the partial application of Islamic Sharia Law through Islamic Courts and local administrative organizations based on Muslim community leadership. It also calls for
security forces and government officials to be selected from the local Southern community or have language, cultural and knowledge of local customs and traditions before being posted.
Thailand may allow more local autonomy and consider allowing Shariah law to defuse a separatist insurgency in Muslim provinces that border Malaysia, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said.
Abhisit is seeking to undermine suspected separatists in four southernmost provinces who have attacked teachers, Muslim worshippers and policemen this month, leaving at least 31 dead and more than 50 injured. The prime minister, who took office
in December, has insisted any decentralization of power wouldn't be tantamount to autonomy, which the government opposes.
Most of the local Malay Muslims just want a more autonomous, more decentralized administration so that they have political space for their own cultural and religious identity, said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political science lecturer at the
Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani province: So far the local identity has been suppressed by the central government.
Abhisit has advocated a reconciliatory approach with more development aid for the region, where separatists have fought for an independent state since Thailand formally annexed the autonomous Malay-Muslim sultanate in 1902. A planned development
plan that would create jobs in the region will go a long way to contribute to stability, he said.
Abhisit said negotiations with separatists were impractical because the movement was not integrated. Insurgents in the area, which is about twice the size of the Palestinian territories, were supported by funds from drug cartels, human
trafficking rings and other criminal syndicates, he said.
Recruiters appeal to a sense of Malay nationalism and pride in the old Patani sultanate, says Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, Crisis Group's Thailand analyst: They tell students in these schools that it is the duty of every Muslim to take
back their land from the Buddhist infidels.