Shocking conduct by the military
At first she was shocked. Then she was angry. Now she is more determined to tell the stories of small people in the deep South who are sandwiched between the Muslim militants and security personnel, both ready to kill suspected enemies and the innocent for their own causes. Bangkok Post journalist Supara Janchitfah was on her way back from Kolo Balae, a village in Yala's Bannang Sata district, when a group of armed soldiers surrounded her car, forced her to get out, took her picture and ID card, searched the car and tried to confiscate her documents and camera.
The human rights lawyers in the group and a Japanese reporter in another car also faced the same harassment _ an apparent effort by the military to intimidate the media and human rights activists and to prevent them from giving voice to southern Muslims' grievances. The harassment they faced might have been a small incident in the larger picture of daily killings in the deep South.
But it shows the growing militarisation of the region that has given the men in green a free hand to abuse their power.
The intimidation took place early this week amid the military's operations to get rid of suspected terrorists and their sympathisers through mass arrests and _ as accused by many villagers _ through extrajudicial killings.
In the past few weeks, the military has stepped up its offensive in the three southernmost provinces, leading to the round-up of some 400 ethnic Muslims now detained at various military centres.
It must be pointed out that the military has just closed down one of its intelligence units after it was revealed that many villagers were tortured there for confessions and secret information.
The clean-up operations followed a string of street demonstrations which culminated in a massive protest in Pattani last month. One of their grievances involved the accusation of a rape murder by a group of soldiers.
Due to the media's portrayal of the angry demonstrators as law breakers, the Buddhist majority accused the military of being too soft amid the militants' daily bombings, arson and the killing of innocents. To rescue its image, the military's offensives have been widely advertised as an effective move to curb violence in the restive South.
Many news organisations readily buy the military's story. Not because it is true, but because it is the story we want to hear. But what is really happening down there? The military wants us to believe that all the problems will go away if those believed to be terrorist cells are eliminated.
But can violence end violence when the exploitative structures that nurture local resentment remain intact?
The media cannot answer these questions by following the troops to report on their activities or through reducing the complex southern problems into a black-and-white situation, in which the good soldiers are fighting against the Muslim baddies.
That is why Supara was in Kolo Balae. Nearly 80 villagers there have been arrested; one of them who was separately captured was shot dead during detention. The military reportedly insisted he was shot during a gun battle with a group of militant Muslims who attacked the military convoy. Forensics examination, however, showed he was beaten to death before he was shot.
This is the story that needs to be told.
If we are appalled by the cruelty of Muslim terrorists, we should also be appalled by state-sponsored terrorism. If we are not, we must ask ourselves why?
The South is exploding because two racist nationalisms are clashing head-on. If peace is our goal, the media needs to make both sides understand this by exposing the truth. By impeding the media's efforts to tell the truth, or by manoeuvring the media to tell only one side of the story, the military is itself obstructing peace.
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor (Outlook), Bangkok Post.
edit @ 2007/07/19 23:04:24