05/27/2004, 00.00
thailand

Islamic rebels seek peace talks, government remains cautious

Bangkok (AsiaNews)  - There is hope for dialog in the deadlock between the Thai government and Muslims rebel militia in the southern part of the country. Bersatu leader Wan Kadir Che Man, under whose leadership all rebel forces are united, has proposed having official talks with the Thai government in order to put and end to the violence that has lead to around 200 deaths this year.  

According to the weekly, The Nation, Wan Kadir is seeking autonomy and no longer independence for Thailand's southern regions.

"In this age of globalization, the world walks (together), leaving no room for separatism," Kadir said while asking for greater "political space" for Muslim minorities and adding that he didn't want to place conditions on talks with the government. 

The Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, at first said he would accept Kadir's proposal ("I am ready to speak to them), but then took a half step back when saying any talks would be conducted "on an informal basis". 

Thaksin's reconsideration of formal talks evidences Thai society's disdain for peace negotiations with separatist organizations. Vice Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has been luke-warm toward the rebels' offer, stating that Wan Kadir wants to use such talks to build up its international notoriety and some become part of the CIO (Council of Islamic Organizations). 

The difficult situation in the south is pushing religious exponents to campaign for more dialog.  The national radio program, Unite All Thai As One, recently hosted Imam Pattana Lungputae, the head of the Tonson Muslim community in Thon Buri (an industrial suburb of Bangkok). There the Tonson Mosque rises among Buddhist temples and right in front of the Holy Cross Catholic church.  

"The role of religious heads is to guide the (moral) conscience of their community and foster the values of love, responsibility and sharing," the Imam said during the radio interview.

"Buddhism, Islam and Christianity teach us how to live peacefully.  All Thai people should love one another without regard to religion. Society wouldn't have problems if each person really lived out the value of sharing found in all religions," Lungputae said.

In Thailand most citizens are Buddhist (95%). Islamic faithful form just 4% of the population while Christians are even more a minority at 0.5%.
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