Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Thai – Rat Issara

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Region, Thai


Rat Issara

Relates to autonomous region

In Thailand any attempt to translate autonomous region tends to be controversial.   In the Thai press and other sources, it is referred to in a variety of ways as การปกครองตนเอง  (kan pokkhrong ton eng – self-rule), เขตปกครองอิสระ (khet pokkhrong isara – independent administration zone), รัฐอิสระ (rat isara – independent state), เขตมณฑลพิเศษ (khet monthon phiset – special territorial zone), เขตเศรษฐกิจพิเศษ (khet setthakit phiset – special economic zone or economic bloc), เขตวัฒนธรรมพิเศษ (khet wattanatam piset – special cultural zone) as well as การแบ่งแยกดินแดน (kan baeng yaek dindaen – secession).

All of these controversial expressions convey negative implications like independence, privilege, self-rule, and even separation from the Thai government and the Thai public. The Thai press and other sources use these terms to refer to the causes of the unrest in the Muslim-majority southern border areas. Some of this unrest can be traced back to the integration of the Malay-speaking southern Thais into the Bangkok polity during the reign of King Chulalongkorn.  These terms convey a renunciation of sovereignty by the Thai state that many Thais find intolerable.

In response to these difficulties, the government instituted mechanisms for countering ‘separatism’. This gained greater prominence after the 1932 revolution, particularly when the Phibun government tried to impose an assimilation policy. In the southern provinces this led to resistance and some believed that government policy violated the identity and culture of Malay-Muslims.  The term was used throughout the Cold War period. It was applied to some Malay-Muslims leaders who were jailed, to others who fled to Malaysia, as well as to underground movements.

During the Thaksin government, the term ‘autonomous region’ was invoked by some members of the National Reconciliation Commission. However, it is still liable to be mistranslated and misinterpreted in the same way, thus causing further misunderstanding, mistrust, violence, unrest and insecurity in the Muslim-majority southern border areas.  This remains the case even after Mr Anand Panyarachun, Chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission, tried to clarify the term as ‘some form of power-sharing which is legitimate under the Thai constitution’  (Bangkok Post 24 Nov 05, p.3).




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