Just over a year ago, the news out of Thailand was that Sonthi Boonyaratglin would be named the new top general of the country’s military.
About every year or so, this position is rotated to a new military man in Thailand’s tradition.
The big story with Boonyaratglin, however, was that he would become the highest-ranking Muslim ever to ascend the ranks of the Thai army. His appointment was widely seen as a bid by the government to end a bloody Islamic insurgency in the Muslim south of the Buddhist-dominated country.
In fact, in making the case for his elevation last year, Boonyaratglin supporters explained that his appointment could help counter the impression that the government discriminates against Muslims.
If that was the goal, the move paid off.
I doubt anyone will be suggesting the Thai government is guilty of anti-Muslim discrimination in the near term.
Because while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was off visiting the U.N. in New York this week, Boonyaratglin staged a military coup, relieving him of power and banning all political meetings and activities throughout the country.
“In order to maintain law and order, meetings of political parties and conducting of other political activities are banned,” he said in a statement. “Political gatherings of more than five people have already been banned, but political activities can resume when normalcy is restored.”
The coup leaders suspended the constitution and imposed martial law when they took power late Tuesday.
Boonyaratglin had argued openly with the prime minister about security policy in the country. But he had steadfastly rejected the idea of a coup.
- “There is nobody who wants to stage a coup,” he said. “I can assure that the military will not.”
- “The army will not get involved in the political conflict,” he said. “Political troubles should be resolved by politicians. Military coups are a thing of the past.”
- “That would only hurt the country’s image, and the army does not agree with the idea of emergency rule,” he said.
But that was then. This is now.
Also of note is the fact that the Islamic rebel leader in southern Thailand is endorsing the coup and suggesting it represents a breakthrough for resolution of the conflict.
“It is the right thing that the military has taken power to replace the Thaksin Shinawatra government,” said Lukman Lima, an exiled Muslim rebel fighting for a separate Muslim state in the country with a population that is only 4 percent Islamic.
Lukman said the general is the “only one who knows the real problems” of the Muslim-dominated provinces of southern Thailand.
The big issue between the general and the prime minister had been Boonyaratglin’s push to open negotiations with the Islamist insurgents.
Shinawatra advocated a hard line against the rebellion in the south.
With all that is being written about the coup in Thailand, precious little of what I have spelled out here has been mentioned with any prominence.
Here we are in the midst of a global jihad, in which virtually every conflict in the world involved Muslims waging war against non-Muslims. Yet, no one in the press dares mention the curiosity of a Muslim general overthrowing the prime minister in a predominantly Buddhist country involved in fighting a protracted conflict with Muslim insurgents who want independence for their 4 percent of the population.
Do you think it’s significant?
Do you think it’s newsworthy?
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