PHOTO: The attractions of Thailand’s southern border town usually become apparent after sunset
On one side of the Thai/Malaysian border is Sungai Golok, on the Malaysian side it’s the town of Rantau Panjang. The two towns are separated by the Golok River as well as decades of furious fighting between Muslim separatists who want to reclaim some of the southern areas in Thailand under the Malaysian flag.
The Thai Buddhists on the other side are happy for it to remain part of the Kingdom of Thailand. Enough of the politics…
The real story in Sungai Golok is the thriving little border town that attracts Malaysian men nightly to enjoy the ‘pleasures of the flesh’, loud music, karaoke, copious booze and ‘the ladies’. All the same ‘lifestyle items’ frowned upon just south of the river in Malaysia.
Although the border town’s most infamous days are in the past it still lures plenty of traffic across the river nightly.
Thai merchants, nowadays cross the major border checkpoint in Sungai Kolok to enter Kelantan, the Malaysian border city, to sell food and household goods as the neighbours now have more purchasing power than before.
Poised at the very south of Narithawat Province, Sungai Golok is ground zero for border boozing and debauchery. With a population of around 38,000 it’s hardly a thriving metropolis but when the sun goes down the men from south of the border flock across the river to enjoy entertainment unavailable to them in the strict Muslim province of Kelantan.
The death toll in the deep south is equivalent to the toll in the Gaza Strip
If it wasn’t for it’s strategic location on the main road heading south from Thailand you would never hear of Sungai Golok. But apart from its rising reputation as the southern red light district it’s also a strategic target for bombings and outrage from people south of the border who see the town as the epitome of everything wrong with ‘Thai and Western decadence’.
The death toll in the deep south is equivalent to the toll in the Gaza Strip conflict – around 7,000 since 2004. But the violence in the Deep South is rarely reported in international media.
Violent attacks happen almost daily in the southern provinces of Thailand – Pattani, Yala and Narithawat -with little sign of any drop in attacks from the insurgents.
Back in Sungai Golok it’s just part of the nightlife where the noise from the discos is occasionally interrupted by a bomb. Does it deter the men heading across the border for their nights of revelry or the Thai women working in the bars? Hell no.
The Golok River is very small and easy to cross without using the main bridge road – Malay Mail
The nightclubs and bars are regular targets for the indiscriminate home-made pipe bombs and car bombs, almost daily, but it does little to dampen the enthusiasm for a good night. In fact the reputation of Sungai Golok as the ‘place to go’ for a good time continues to rise – which just puts it higher up the target list for the insurgents who want to make their point.
The troubles in the town do little to dampen the enthusiasm for the men that visit and most of them will head home after their night of fun to the conservative Malaysian state over the river unhurt. But for the girls that work in Sungai Golok it’s a constant threat to their lives. The stakes are high.
The men are paying good money for the services provided in the town – the girls are eager to part the men from their money and are willing to take the risks of plying their trade in such a dangerous location.
With a single bridge across the Golok river you would think that police and army can control the flow of traffic across the river but many of the visitors slip across the small river by boat and cross the border undetected, usually without passports or any means of identification if the worst happens.
If you’re heading south from Thailand and wanting to cross the river border into Malaysia there’s only one official road, through Sungai Golok. So it seems the little towns future, and reputation, will continue to grow along with it the violence that sees no signs of abating.
Judge Kanakorn Pianchana, another victim of the southern insurgency
Five men were awaiting the judge to hand down his verdict. Charged with murder and facing either life imprisonment or a death penalty, or being acquitted. On October 4 Judge Kanakorn Pianchana, at the Yala Provincial Court, announced the five men were acquitted, in a 25 page document. What was to follow was both profound and tragic.
The judge claimed, as he wound up his reading of the acquittal, that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the five Muslim defendants with the murder charges, claiming that his ‘superiors’ had pressured him to convict them and impose capital punishment.
Then he reached into the pocket of his black judge’s gown, drew a pistol and shot himself in front of a startled court room.
“My words might be as light as a bird’s feather but my heart is as heavy as a mountain.”
“Return the verdicts to the judges. Return the justice to the people.”
His final words before shooting himself have been ringing around Thai social media and judicial circles ever since as Thais ponder what in earth is going on in the courtrooms of the insurgency-plagued southern provinces, indeed any court in Thailand.
Kanakorn Pianchana luckily survived the shooting, was rushed to the provincial hospital and was released last week after visits from officials and the obligatory staged photo opportunities during the presentation of flowers to the patient.
The incident, apart from the immediate impact on the judge’s health and his family, draws broad attention to the two decades of civil strife in the south, ironically described by Thai officials as the ‘restive South’. Buddhists and Muslims are in a real-life battle for real estate in the disputed southern-most provinces of Narithawat, Pattani and Yala. Once a Malay Muslim sultanate, the three provinces were annexed by the Thai kingdom in the early 20th century. But the earlier passive resistance has given way to a bloody insurgency since 2004.
Some 6,000-7,000 people have been killed by militants since the early 2000s, with heavy-handed military law being imposed on the hapless residents for at least 15 years. The scale of the dramatic violence is comparable with deaths in the Gaza Strip conflict, but far less known or understood by foreign media.
The targets are teachers, judges, academics, soldiers and religious leaders – from both faiths. Framing the conflict merely as a land dispute belies the tetchy religious friction between the Malay Muslims and the southern Buddhist Thais.
In many parts of Thailand’s south, even the tourist island of Phuket, there is a mixture of Buddhists and Muslims living peacefully together in a tolerant version of ‘Thai’ Islam with Thai Buddhists whose religious principals generally embrace freedom of worship.
Not so in the deep south where Muslim insurgents, many who travel over the open borders into Thailand, have waged a violent civil war against mostly completely innocent southern residents. The border, whilst patrolled with checkpoints, is an easy swim across a small stream in some locations, or a trek across the hills in others.
A few hundred kilometres to the north are the tourist-magnet beaches of Krabi and Phuket, some of the most popular tourist destinations in south east Asia. Yet a few hours drive south the situation changes dramatically with armed militia at checkpoints, barbed wire, sandbags and lots of questions. Successive governments have tried to downplay the problems whilst quietly trying to engage in unproductive peace-talks.
Both sides have drawn lines in the sand that prevent any beneficial progress towards lasting peace. On the part of the Muslim insurgents, the actual key figures and ‘money’ behind the two decades of attacks, is particularly hard to identify, making contact and plans for productive talks complex or impossible.
Both the seats of the Malaysian and Thai governments are a long distance from the troubled region – in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The Malay government, whilst politely sending along various ‘government’ negotiators over the years, have been less than forthcoming in engaging with the Thai government for a solution.
So, the ‘ Deep South’, the ‘Restive South’, or just southern Thailand, remains a potentially dangerous zone with little support and a ‘law unto itself’ attitude where corruption can thrive.
Mr. Kanakorn, a judge a the Yala Provincial Court for 17 years, openly accused the Thai army of using forced confessions and torture to condemn Muslims and push through their sentences. He cited many times his verdicts were subverted by superiors who lacked a full understanding of the evidence in cases.
Regional chief justices are allowed to review verdicts before they are read out in court – a quaint Thai judicial tradition following the country’s patriarchal line of authority.
In the case at hand, Mr. Kanakorn claimed he carefully considered the cases of all five defendants, accused of killing five others in June 2018. He concluded there were insufficient grounds to convict them.
“But the regional chief justice of a part of southern Thailand sent a secret letter ordering me to punish the five defendants.”
He neglected to name names.
Mr. Kanakorn explained at a hearing in August, addressing the defendants and their families, that he wanted to acquit the men but was “being pressured from above to convict”. He delayed the reading of a verdict for another two months.
Relatives of the defendants, gathered to hear the verdict on their family members, have explained to the media they had no idea what was about to unfold after the reading of the verdict on October 4. At first, according to people in the court, he asked the court reporter and other provincial legal officials out of the court room. He then ordered a guard to lock the main door.
The judge then set up two mobile phones set to stream the verdict and then spent the next hour delivering his deliberations. People were knocking at the doors of the courtroom and the judge’s phones continued to ring, still streaming, as the judge handed down a verdict he clearly disagreed with, and was prepared to end his life as a consequence.
In amongst the deliberations, the judge spoke about the low wages for judges, about 75,000 baht per month, and the opportunities the low wages presented for judges to have their opinions and final verdicts swayed.
At the conclusion of the unfolding drama, as people outside the courtroom continued to bash on the locked doors, the judge simply said… “This is the end.”
One of the people in the court said that, at this stage, the judge “looked totally exhausted.”
Mr. Kanakorn stood up, turned and bowed to framed portraits of the Thai monarchy adorning the walls of the courtroom, casually reached into his black judicial robes, pulled out the gun and shot himself.
At this stage, given the acquittal of the five men, the five still languish in a Yala prison. The families have been told that the prosecution will appeal Mr. Kanakorn’s verdict of acquittal in the murder cases. Bail has been set at 500,000 baht for each man, an amount of money well beyond the reach of a poor southern family.
The story has drawn widespread sympathy for Judge Kanakorn Pianchana and put additional focus on Thai judicial corruption and, locally, justice ‘southern style’.
Five days to move out – restaurant encroaches on Nakhon Si Thammarat creek
PHOTO: Facebook/Strong Club – Sufficiency mind, anti-corruption
A restaurant in Nakhon Si Thammarat has been exposed for illegally encroaching on the Baan Kiriwong creek and constructing permanent foundations and infrastructure. They’ve been ordered by authorities to move out.
The Nation reports that a Facebook page titled “Strong Club – Sufficiency mind, anti-corruption” posted a photo with a caption on October 14, alluding to the illegal encroachment. The concrete platform runs for about 60 metres along one side of the stream.
The restaurant had allegedly created a cement platform in the creek and set up tables and chairs at Baan Kiriwong, which has become famous as an eco-attraction for tourists in the Nakhon Si Thammarat province, west of Krabi on the Gulf of Thailand.
The area also serves as a natural flood warning system, so, in the event of flash floods, the locals send emergency warnings to people in the town to prepare for approaching flood waters.
The Facebook page owners had asked the local government to inspect the area to ensure more damage wasn’t inflicted on the forest and the Baan Kiriwong creek.
On Tuesday, the Lansaka district governor and rangers went to the scene and questioned the owner of the restaurant. The restaurant owner was given an ultimatum to break up and remove the cement platform and move the restaurant out of the area within five days.
SOURCE: The Nation
Thailand is facing “hybrid warfare” by “ill-intentioned politicians” – Army chief Gen Apirat
PHOTO: Screenshot – Matichon TV
Thailand’s Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong is warning that Thailand is facing what he described as a “hybrid warfare”.
The ultra-loyalist Army chief says the ‘war’ is being waged by a collection of “ill-intentioned politicians”, remnants of communist ideologues and “foreign forces” against the country’s major establishments. His speech was aimed fairly and squarely at opposition politicians who he accused of “soliciting foreign interference in Thai domestic affairs”.
His comments were heavily politically weighted for a man who is meant to represent the country’s Army, a position usually associated with political neutrality.
General Apirat was speaking at the army’s southern headquarters where he outlined what he claimed to be a conspiracy among several groups of people bent on “destroying the country and its major establishments.”
General Apirat referred to a recent visit to Hong Kong by a leading Thai opposition politician during which he met with pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, claiming it was an “illustration of how anti-government forces are trying to solicit foreign interference in Thai domestic affairs”.
He did not mention names specifically but showed a picture of Wong taken with the silhouette of someone understood to be Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit, the fire-brand leader of Future Forward Party. Thanathorn admitted that he was in Hong Kong recently for a panel discussion and a picture he took with Wong wen tviral. He also admitted that he was inspired to enter politics by the fight for democracy in Hong Kong.
He accused opposition figures of targeting young people and trying to indoctrinate them with “destructive ideas.”
“Joshua Wong visited Thailand and then this businessman-turned-politician went to Hong Kong. Were they up to something? I want to ask whether these young (Thai) people would go out on the streets if called upon one day,” he said.
PHOTO: Future Forward’s Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit and HK pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong
General Apirat, a key supporter of the Prayut government, took aim at politicians and academics who he said are trying to use the situation in southern Thailand for political gains. He singled out Dr. Chalita Bundhuwong from the Kasetsart University, who proposed, during a recent panel discussion in Pattani, that Article 1 of the Constitution which guarantees Thailand as a single and indivisible state, be amended.
General Apirat opined that the proposal has a “hidden motive that would threaten the country’s security”. “Amending Article 1 of the Constitution would pave the way for amendments of other articles concerning the monarchy,” he said without elaborating but vowed to block any attempts to have the article in question amended. The general didn’t outline the means by which he would be able to ‘block’ the process of amendments to Thailand’s constitution.
The army chief also recalled the presence of a group of western diplomats who showed up at Pathumwan police station in April when Thanathorn was summoned to hear a sedition charge against him. He alleged that it was part of a larger plot to internationalise the issue.
The ‘western diplomats’ were staff from foreign embassies stationed in Bangkok whose governments had openly expressed concerns over the sedition charges against the Future Forward leader.
“All these incidents were not coincidental,” he said, referring specifically to Thanathorn’s meeting with Wong, the support shown by western diplomats to the Future Forward leader, the controversial panel discussion in Pattani and the frequent mobilising of anti-military rallies.
“They were orchestrated.”
Gen Apirat also accused some of the “foreign educated” academics with leftist views of being “masterminds” behind many of the anti-government and anti-military activities.
He claimed, without evidence, that they had been working in cahoots with politicians “who harbour ill intentions toward the country’s major establishments, foreign elements, and businessmen born with silver spoons in their mouths” to wage a “hybrid warfare” against the country.
Gen Apirat clarified that a “hybrid war” is a modern form of warfare that employs a range tools and players designed to destabilise and bring about changes in a society.
“They include inciting local unrests, propaganda, foreign interference, cyber-attacks, economic pressure, and discrediting of the executive and judiciary branches.”
“Their ultimate aim is to win elections, seize executive power, and to change the Constitution.”
The General’s lecture was entitled “Our Land from Security Perspectives” and was full of theatre punctuating some of his points with a produced Power Point presentation and military music.
When challenged by the media if a dialogue with these groups of dissenting voices was possible, General Apirat said “I don’t think so. They are bent on pushing their agenda regardless of what we say.”
SOURCE: Thai PBS World
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