Monday, December 06, 2004

paper cranes


Thai officials drop paper cranes in peace-keeping effort

Rungrawee C. Pinyorat
Associated Press
Published December 6, 2004

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 missives a success, saying they had an "enormous positive psychological effect," reminding southerners that they are part of Thai society and that 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 a grocery owner to death, hurled grenades at the homes of two policemen and set fire to a school and a teacher's house.

Fit for a festival

Thais across the country -- Cabinet ministers, office workers, schoolchildren and even convicts -- had been making the birds for the past two weeks, encouraged by the government.

About 120 million cranes were folded for the occasion, also meant to honor Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his 77th birthday, the government said.

A festival-like atmosphere prevailed in many areas in the south, as children raced to grab the birds. Young and old 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. The government was heavily criticized after 85 Muslim demonstrators died during their arrests on Oct. 25, including 78 who suffocated or were crushed when soldiers stacked them on top of one
another in military trucks.

Mixed reaction

The reaction to the peace campaign was mixed.

In Yala's remote Krong Pinang district, where separatist sentiment has been strong, Yarodah Lasae picked up several of the birds, one of which carried the message: "Wish to See Peace in the South."

"I have long been waiting for this day, and I'm very happy that the government and Thai people care for people in the three southern provinces," she said.

Others, however, would not be swayed.

Natthakarn Temasa, 41, a local official in Tak Bai, said her son was among those who died in the Oct. 25 incident.

"I am thankful for the moral support that has been given to us, but it is hard for me to get any good feelings back after one of my sons was killed and another injured," Natthakarn said.


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