Better Economy Could Help Calm Down Thailand's Restive South

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By Mohd Haikal Isa

Since year 2000, thousands have ended up victims to the armed conflict in the four Muslim provinces of south Thailand - Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Songkhla. Bernama attempts to learn of the feelings on the ground and the efforts taken to bring peace to the restive southern provinces.
The second of the five series delves on the poor state of economy and its implication on the stability in south Thailand.

YALA (Thailand), Sept 14 (Bernama) -- The Chamber of the Association of South Thailand Malay Entrepreneurs not represents the businessmen in the four provinces of south Thailand - Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Songkhla - but also lends a helping hand to the locals who want to improve their economic standing.

"The economic development of the locals could contribute towards the peace efforts in the southern provinces," said its secretary general, Wan Abdullah Wan Ahmad.

Speaking to Bernama when met at Sungai Golok, a border town in Narathiwat recently, the businessman said the provinces have huge economic potential waiting to be tapped.

What the Muslims in these areas need is the opportunities to move ahead in the economic field, what more business has always been in the heart of the community.

THE SKY IS THE LIMIT

The business chamber, established in 2015, itself has started the ball rolling in moving towards establishing big businesses. The chamber is now involved in the establishment of the Fatoni Airlines System Berhad (FAS).

Though FAS is still in the planning stages, the Muslims in the south are already feeling proud of the idea.

"It is definitely a historical event to see the Fatoni Airlines System logo emblazoned on the aircraft, a testament of the economic independence of the Muslims in south Thailand," he said.

The airline will start on a modest scale from the Narathiwat Airport with the initial services for pilgrims to fulfill the Umrah and Haj (both are pilgrimages of Islam undertaken by Muslims all around the world) before extending the wings to other commercial services.

"Sustainable economic growth in the south is crucial in overcoming the migration of the younger generation further down south to Malaysia or up north to Bangkok and other places in Thailand to earn a living," he pointed out.

PRESENT ECONOMIC CONDITION IN A SAD STATE

Wan Abdullah estimated that about 150,000 of the youngsters in south Thailand were hired by the Tomyam (a Thai soup) restaurants throughout Malaysia.

"Maybe there is a lack of employment and economic opportunities, hence they have to leave their homeland to earn and support their family," he added.

The economic sphere in the south is in a sad state of affairs though the provinces are rich in natural resources - rubber, oil palm, marine resources and offshore petroleum and gas.

The poor economic development is also due to the current instability here. Shooting and bombings happen almost daily and this deters investors from coming to the region.

Without the investments from investors, the economy in south Thailand will not grow and the youngsters will continue leaving their homeland.

VIOLENCE DERAILS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

A local, Mudaleeche Wateh, 32, who graduated from Malaysian university of International Islamic University Malaysia (UIA) noted that the current instability in the south has affected economic development that in turn contributed towards greater political instability.

The poor state of economy has made life difficult for the locals with the idle youngsters going on a crime spree or joining the militants as they could do nothing much.

"Drugs like Methaphetamine is easily available and this is detrimental for the youngsters of Pattani," he said.

Rubber has been the main commodity of the southern provinces but its falling prices has pushed many further below the poverty line.

Moreover, the locals even fear to go out to tap rubber as early as 3.00 am as many have been shot dead while tapping rubber during the early hours.

"Nowadays they only dare come out at 6.00 am, but tapping at this time produces lower latex volume and the quality too is reduced.

"The people from south Thailand have been independent both economically and in getting on with their lives, but the poor state of economy has affected their resilience," he said on the effects of a stagnant economy.

Despite of the adverse economic conditions in south Thailand, Wan Abdullah and Mudaleeche remain hopeful in seeing the region emerging wealthy with its natural resources and the people living in peace.

THAI GOVERNMENT WORKING TRANSFORMING SOUTH PROVINCES

Meanwhile, the Thai government agency entrusted with the task of developing the economy in the southern provinces, Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), is well aware that something has to be done to develop the southern region economically.

Its secretary general Panu Uthairat noted that the Thai government was well aware that economic transformation could held bring peace to the region.

Hailing from the Nongcik district of Pattani, Panu pointed out over the last few years the government had managed to reduce violence in south Thailand, thanks to the economic programmes undertaken by SBPAC.

NUMEROUS PROJECTS ON THE PIPELINE

Speaking to Bernama in Yala province before Thai Prime Minister Jen Prayut Chan-o-cha paid a visit to Narathiwat in July, Panuk explained to Bernama on the many projects that have been earmarked for south Thailand.

Betong in Yala has been earmarked as the renewable energy corridor, while Sungai Golok in Narathiwat as the border trade corridor.

In Pattani, he said, SBPAC has earmarked the province as the agricultural and farm animal breeding corridor.

These proposed corridors, he said, showed that the government had stepped up the efforts through SBPAC to develop economically the southern provinces.

Panuk who received his Datukship (a traditional Malay honorific title) from the Ruler of Malaysia's Pahang state said SBPAC has been working hand in hand with the chambers of commerce to attract foreign investments, especially from Malaysia.

"We hope that investors from Malaysia will invest in south Thailand especially in Halal industry. We want to make the southern region as one of the biggest halal producers of the world," he said.

Malaysia could play a pertinent role that could indirectly contribute towards peace in south provinces, he said.

During his visit to Narathiwat, Jen Prayut said the economic corridors would be backed up by huge investments in the southern provinces.

The corridors will be developed in several stages in a six year period up to 2022. Meanwhile, government spokesmen Maj Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the economic undertaking could help spur local economic growth and end bloodshed in the region.
--BERNAMA