Thai military drops payloads for peace over troubled southern provinces
BANGKOK, Thailand – In a novel approach to peacemaking – and damage control – Thai warplanes dropped millions of folded paper cranes over the country’s troubled southern provinces, expressing hope for an end to the separatist violence that has killed hundreds in the Muslim-dominated region.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared the origami-style missives a success, saying they had an “enormous positive psychological effect,” reminding southerners they are part of Thai society and their countrymen care for them.
Even so, the campaign didn’t stop the violence. A 22-pound bomb was discovered – and safely defused – Sunday on a road crowded with people waiting to gather the paper cranes, a peace symbol borrowed from Japan and familiar to most Asians.
Hours later, suspected Muslim extremists shot dead a grocery shop owner, hurled grenades were at the homes of two policemen and set fire to a school and a teacher’s house.
Encouraged by the government, Thais across the country – Cabinet ministers, office workers, schoolchildren and even convicts – have been busily making the birds for the past two weeks.
The government said some 120 million cranes were folded for the occasion, also meant to honor Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his 77th birthday.
A festival-like atmosphere prevailed in many areas in the south, as children raced to grab the birds. Young and old alike were excited at the prospect of finding the one bird folded and signed by Shinawatra, which carries the promise of a scholarship if found by a child, or a job for an adult.
More than 50 warplanes, including C-130 transports, carried out the airdrops over the southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, the only Muslim-majority region in the Buddhist-dominated country.
More than 540 people have died there this year in violence blamed on Islamic separatists, and Bangkok’s heavy-handed response has not helped the situation.
The government came under heavy criticism after 85 Muslim demonstrators died during arrest on Oct. 25, including 78 who suffocated or were crushed when soldiers stacked them on top of each other in military trucks.