Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Apologies for the mess around here the last few days. I got carried away on the weekend making changes to the template, and forgot to check it with Internet Explorer. I shouldn't need to be reminded how badly IE can screw up the rendering of valid code, and of course it looked just fine with a standards compliant browser like Mozilla Firebird..... Anyway, it won't happen again.
Dalai Lama in Canada
I have been catching up with some of the blogs I had been reading before my trip, and trying to dig up anything I can find from the Canadian media on the progress of the Dalai Lama's trip. In other words focussing on input rather than output. On the visit, CBC has had good coverage with some video files available. The Tibetan leader delivered his message at Toronto's Skydome on Sunday, to a full house of about 30,000 people. There is a video available from that page - it's good for me to be able to see some of these tv reports that way. And it's considerate of CBC to make them available in Quicktime format, which I can download to view later (my puny bandwidth makes video streaming of ram format stuff all but useless). It's just great to see the tremendous admiration for His Holiness in Canada. The political issues of Tibet seemed to be well covered during his few days in Ottawa, and the PM seemed to have no particular reticence in discussing them, and openly telling the media that the two leaders had covered the political and human rights situation in Tibet. (There is also video available from that Ottawa story, as well as this one). I also found a short video of the Vancouver event, which I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful daughter who made it possible to attend on that Sunday morning. The CTV website covers the meeting with the PM, and has some video links which I haven't had any luck with so far.
Thais were shocked this morning, with the news of a major coordinated attack on police and army posts across the southern provinces by Islamic separatist militants. In recent months, violent attacks in the south have been persistent but rather sporadic, and nothing on this scale. Some have been drive-by hits on police or government workers by motorcycle riding hit-men, or a small ambush attacks on police stations. There was one incident a few months ago that involved two or three coordinated small groups, one of which managed to steal some weapons from an army base. Last night's attacks in Songkhla, Pattani and Yala provinces have raised the stakes considerably.
According to the Prime Minister's latest statement, 74 people have been killed by police and army units defending their bases and stations from a well coordinated series of attacks at approximately 10 different locations. This is a serious escalation of the simmering unrest in the south, a situation that the government has consistently played down as being merely the work of "bandits", seeking to deny the existence of a political - or worse yet, jihadist - aspect. I'm surprised that, even after this morning's attacks (this all occurred around 5am), and the shocking video footage on tv today showing the evident large scale and coordination, that the PM is still sticking to his "bandits" nonsense. Reports on Thai tv are showing location after location of the morning's battle sites, with many bodies strewn around at each place. There is some information that authorities may have been tipped off to the attacks, and this could explain the extremely high number of attackers killed compared with earlier incidents when the security forces were caught apparently off guard.
Throughout this ongoing issue of southern unrest, the PM has been his usual "speak first, think later" self. After the January attacks which netted the attackers a substantial amount of weapons and ammunition, and resulted in the death of several officers, the lovely and talented tycoon-turned-politician remarked angrily that if the security officers were not capable of successfully defending their bases, then perhaps they deserved to die. A shocking statement which justifiably angered the country, and especially the families of course. Just the other day he pledged to relocate himself to the southern provinces and supervise the solving of all problems personally. "I will sleep in the south for 3 months if necessary." I wonder if he still feels like living up to that pledge today.
He loves to make pledges and promises with time limits attached - the 3 month deadline to rid every inch of Thailand of illegal drugs (at the cost of thousands of extrajudicial killings, and the drugs are still there), the 6 week deadline to solve Bangkok's traffic jams (made years ago when he was a mere minister - we still have traffic jams). Then there was his brilliant stroke of genius a few weeks ago, after Spanish PM Zapatero ordered Spanish troops out of Iraq, and Honduras followed suit the next day, Thaksin announced that if anyone harmed or even tried to harm the Thai non-combat contingent in the Iraqi reconstruction effort (they are based in Kerbala), he would immediately order their withdrawal as well. Excuse me Khun Thaksin, but isn't that exactly what the terrorists want? Haven't you just hung a sign on the back of every Thai soldier in those medical and engineering units, and that sign effectively says "Shoot Me"? Do you plan to do exactly what the violent insurgents in the south want as well?
Latest reports on Thai tv now state that 120 people were killed in the battles this morning across the southern provinces, mainly young men around 18 - 25 years old. The country will certainly be shocked by what happened, and the government must reassess its efforts to help the Muslim communites to feel more included and less alienated. It must be said that the vast majority of southerners do not support these violent people, and indeed the separatist groups of the 1980's and 1990's never had more than a fringe of supporters in the community. But the resentment of heavy handed treatment by the central government is something quite real, and needs to be addressed in a constructive way.
UPDATE: Apparently a number of the insurgents had been holed up inside a mosque this morning, surrounded by security forces. Army spokesman said they had hoped to take some of them alive in order to get more information about the movement, but in the ensuing battle all were killed.