Since 2007 the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat in south Thailand have been known as the “Red Zone” – the area which has been most affected by armed violence and in which the government feels terrorist organisations have the most influence. Since becoming the ‘Red Zone’ people living in the region feel they have lost the power to control their destiny. People are scared to talks to anyone outside their own village; even people in the same village rarely speak about the conflict amongst themselves.
This month (December 2009) I visited South Thailand to find out how local people are dealing with the conflict. I could sense the fear of people immediately when I entered a ‘Red Zone’ village in Yala, through the military checkpoints. In the past these villages were always friendly, but now the people look at me with suspicion and do not greet me. They are clearly fearful! Since the war began, the army and terrorists have seized their village and put fear into their hearts. Today nobody talks to their neighbours, doors are locked after sunset, and nobody goes out at night. Even if there is an accident outside, people are too afraid to leave their homes and help the wounded.
One women told me how in a nearby village, an old man and his son were shot in the tea shop in the middle of the village. When I asked who the shooter was, she became startled and kept quiet. Her face was covered with fear. Many people in the Red Zone have similar experiences. They have heard that those who talk to a reporter, an NGO worker, humanitarian worker, or peacebuilder, tend to end up arrested or killed. This shows how difficult it is for anyone to try and work in this region.
Despite all these difficulties, I was encouraged to find that the work of peacebuilders is continuing; local people organising themselves, in different ways, to try and bring about a better future. I was able to provide updates on the work of organisations such as ARF-Pattani and the SBPAC, and their initatives with peace volunteers and youth groups. I hope you get a chance to read about their important work.