Friday, December 24, 2004

Where Monsoons Meet No. 1

This is the first of a weekly compilation of posts that I'm calling "Where Monsoons Meet". The subject will be political developments in Southeast Asia where I live. It is a region whose historical destiny has been shaped by the meeting of the southwest and northwest monsoons - the "season of winds" - above all in determining the agricultural calendar and trading relations. It is also the title of an excellent little cartoon book that recounts Malayan history from the people's points of view.
  • Tensions continue to mount in Muslim Southern Thailand. Today there are reports of a deadly bomb explosion in Narathiwat province on the border with Malaysia. This follows yesterday's strike by thousands of teachers, urging the authorities to do more to protect them from attacks by Muslim militants. As violence continues, journalists are also suffering. The BBC's Nualnoi Thammasathien writes here of the intimidation she has met with from government authorities as a result of her reports. Meanwhile, the situation is threatening a major international fall-out as the Thai government claims that militants in the South are being trained in Malaysia. The Malaysian government, in turn, is vehemently denying the allegations.
  • Indonesia and East Timor have announced a joint Commission on Truth and Friendship to investigate the violence in East Timor four years ago, in which more than 1,400 people died in the bloody lead-up to the country's independence. So far Indonesia has failed to bring any of its soldiers to justice for their part in the killings. In the meantime, the Indonesian military says it wants more troops to "safeguard the country".
  • On Wednesday, huge numbers turned out for the funeral of Fernando Poe Jr in Manila. Many people believe that Poe was cheated of a win in this year's presidential race by the incumbent, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The mourning for Poe is heightening political tensions. Arroyo had to issue an extraordinary exhortation to the military just before the funeral: "I expect you the soldiers to be by my side, to man the flanks by keeping all threats to national security at bay". Politics as usual in the Philippines?


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