Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hat Yai horror - The conflict in southern Thailand requires a peaceful, political solution

THOUGH two Malaysians were killed and more than 20 injured from the explosion in the basement parking lot of Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel in Hat Yai, the Foreign Affairs Ministry decided not to issue an advisory against travel to the southern provinces of Thailand because Malaysia is a good neighbour that believes that "a friend in need is a friend indeed", according to Malaysia's consul-general in Songkhla.

Nevertheless, this comes with advice to avoid unnecessary travel. On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman advised Malaysians to avoid travelling there if they do not have "anything really important" to do.

Certainly, Malaysians with important and not-so-important engagements, meetings or dealings will still cross over the border to Sungai Kolok. But in the wake of the deadly multiple bomb blasts not only in Hat Yai but also in Yala and Pattani, there is no avoiding the fact that people will reconsider the need to travel to the three southern provinces of Thailand and that this will have an impact on the tourism industry. As it is, tourism in the region was in a bad shape though much of the violence did not take place in popular tourist destinations and commercial centres.

Last Saturday was not the first time the tourist city of Hat Yai and the Lee Gardens Hotel were targeted. In April 2005, a bomb went off at the Hat Yai airport and a supermarket, killing three people, including two foreigners. In September 2006, one of the six motorcycle bombs that rocked the city exploded in front of the hotel. Now that the hotel popular with tourists right in the heart of the business district of Hat Yai was again the target, and the highest number of casualties on Saturday came from the hotel explosion with more than 400 wounded, the inevitable issue on the minds of travellers is their safety in southern Thailand.

As regrettable as it is that the blasts have tourists running scared and cancelling their room reservations, what is of greater concern is their impact on the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Peace talks have at best been tentative, sporadic, secretive and unofficial. But now, the Thai government has ruled out talks and denied reports they have taken place recently. Given the scale of the bombings and the polarisation of the political divide, this hardline response is not surprising. But, ultimately, the conflict in southern Thailand requires a peaceful, political solution. What is needed are fresh approaches to break the barriers conspiring to derail dialogue.

Read more: Hat Yai horror - Editorial - New Straits Times

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