Silencing the warmongers

opinion February 27, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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The citizens of Thailand must stand as one and reject the power-hungry extremists and their thirst for civil war

There is talk of possible civil war as a result of the ongoing stand-off between ruling politicians and the anti-government protesters. Some people believe it is imminent. The government’s Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order on Tuesday called for restraint on both sides, saying the use of violence would worsen the situation and could lead to war.

The warnings come after a spate of violence in recent days left five people dead – four of them children – and more than 50 injured. Meanwhile leaders of the pro-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have said the red-shirt group is ready to enter full “combat” mode against the government’s enemies. At rallies in Nakhon Ratchasima on Sunday they suggested that the caretaker government set up an administration “in exile” in the North or Northeast. Also at the red-shirt gathering was Pheu Thai Party leader Charupong Ruangsuwan, who is the caretaker interior minister.

A separate meeting saw former communist insurgents gather under a banner featuring images of AK-47 assault rifles to announce their support for the red shirts in a “war against the elites”. Red banners have mysteriously appeared in public locations in northern provinces, apparently meaning to signal the coming of “a new Lanna nation”.

Twenty-one people have been killed and more than 700 injured since the anti-government protest led by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee began in November. Most of the casualties have been protesters, but the four children killed at the weekend signalled a dark and terrible turn.

No one in his right mind wants to see civil war in Thailand, and few Thais want to see their country divid

 ed. But it seems that power-hungry politicians and their supporters are different.

Fears of a civil war in 2010, when red-shirt supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra protested against the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, proved to be unfounded. Those 10 weeks of rallies culminated in riots and arson attacks and the death of more than 90 protesters, soldiers, policemen, bystanders and journalists. Armed “men in black” fought security forces on Bangkok streets, but a full-scale civil war was averted – possibly to the dismay of some politicians, who had fuelled divisions with talk of class war between “elite” and “commoner”.

This year has seen another attempt to draw the line between North and South. And in a repeat of 2010, indiscriminate violent attacks have been carried out in a bid to trigger wider fighting between rival groups.

But while hate campaigns have raged between the sides over the years, Thai society does not harbour the widespread deep-rooted division that would lead to large-scale war. Such an intense sense of religious, racial or geographical difference doesn’t exist here.

The extremists may be able to engage in armed skirmishes and cowardly attacks, but starting a large-scale war is another matter. The power-hungry and militant will never achieve their goals as long as the rest of the country wants to see peace and unity and is revolted by the sight of compatriots killing each other.

It is the duty of the caretaker government and protest leaders to silence this talk of war. What the peace-loving and sensible people of Thailand must do is show the warmongers that they are not willing to fall into an abyss of violence.