Thursday, 20 January 2011

Santi Asoke sect flexes its muscle

via CAAI

PAD-allied group predicts govt will bend to its will over Cambodia dispute
Published: 20/01/2011

Samana Photirak, leader of the Santi Asoke sect, has vowed to lead a "neo protest" to press the government to change the way it handles the Cambodian issue.

Samana Photirak, leader of the Santi Asoke sect, talks yesterday to supporters and members of the Thai Patriots Network at their rally site outside Government House, where they have gathered to pressure the government to have Veera Somkwankid, the network’s coordinator, who is in jail in Cambodia, brought home. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD

Speaking in an exclusive interview, Photirak yesterday predicted the sect's strength of commitment would be enough to force the government to review its handling of territorial disputes with the neighbouring country.

The sect, which has close affiliations with the yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), recently joined the Thai Patriots Network rally in front of Government House to pressure the government to help bring home seven Thai nationals being held in Cambodia on illegal entry charges.

The group has hundreds of bare-footed faithful camped at Government House and says it can call on the support of thousands more for what could be a prolonged campaign.

The sect's cause encompasses not just the fate of the Thai seven but the thornier issue of Thai-Cambodia border demarcation.

The seven were arrested in Cambodia in late December. All but one, Thai Patriots Network coordinator Veera Somkwamkid, are now free on bail.

Photirak said the sect's call for the release of the seven detained Thais was based on compassion for those who share similar fates.

Some members of the sect had been affected by the border disputes. They are scattered in northeastern and eastern provinces bordering Cambodia.

Santi Asoke also has a branch called the Sisa Asoke Buddhist community in Kantharalak district of Si Sa Ket, which borders Cambodia.

But Photirak stressed the mission was now bigger than that.

"At issue is the loss of territory," he said.

"It is a national problem. We cannot accept the ways the government is managing things. The Santi Asoke followers cannot allow the government to continue what it has been doing and see Thai territory being gradually occupied."

Photirak said the rally was a "neo protest" using a non-violent and knowledge-based approach.

"It is not a 'mob' thing. It is chaste and pure. It is peaceful and polite. It sticks to objectives, presents truth and shares knowledge. It doesn't focus on quantity."

He insisted the Santi Asoke's rally was justified given the government's management of the border issues.

"We gave them enough time. The [year] 2000 memorandum of understanding [on the demarcation of the border] is still in place. We have the Joint Border Commission and the longer this drags on the more territory we lose. If we let this carry on, we'll lose all [of the disputed areas]."

Photirak admitted his movement might not be able to achieve the expected results but said he would do his best to make the public understand the issue better.

"Our protest will be different from that of other groups," he said.

Photirak said it took work to mount a protracted protest but it was necessary when the government was not doing what it was mandated to do.

He said taking on the Abhisit administration was challenging as the government seemed to have the media and academics on its side.

He also said the rally was not driven by politics, apparently referring to the New Politics Party which was formed by PAD leaders.

Photirak said his group would camp in front of Government House and wait for a PAD rally on Jan 25.

The PAD postponed its rally from Dec 11 last year to next Tuesday.

The campaign is to protest against possible parliamentary endorsement of minutes from previous meetings of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission.

The minutes are based on the 2000 memorandum of understanding that governs the survey and demarcation of the land boundary between the two countries.

The PAD claims the memorandum, which recognises a French map of 1:200,000 scale, puts Thailand at a disadvantage.

It filed a complaint with the Administrative Court yesterday, accusing the government of putting Thai territory at risk by its observance of the memorandum.

Photirak said it was just hearsay that the Santi Asoke sect was difficult and obstinate.

"We stand for the public interest and never quit. Would you consider this being stubborn?"

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