[Buddha-l] Dharmapala, Thai vigilantes

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 4 02:00:27 MDT 2010

Lance raises some concerns about Jerryson's essay which discusses the recent 
rise of Buddhist militias in southern Thailand. Lance is right that Jerryson 
somewhat ambiguates his claim. He claims not only that militias -- some with 
official support -- have taken up residence in monasteries in the south in 
order to protect the monastics and civilians who flee their homes for the 
shelter only the monasteries are equipped to provide, but that the members 
of some of these militias are themselves monastics -- either actual monks, 
or pretending to be monks to fit in.

According to Jerryson, some Thais deny such soldier-monks exist, others 
concede it to some degree or another, but find it a problem. One informant, 
himself claiming to be one of these soldier-monks, provides some of the 
details Jerryson reports. It would be helpful if some confirmation (or 
clarity) from additional sources would substantiate Jerryson's claim.

To be clear about what does seem certain: Buddhist militants, some with 
official national and/or local government support and backing, have emerged 
in recent years in response to numerous incidents of ethnic cleansing of 
Buddhists by Muslims. For instance the Or Ror Bor was founded by Queen 
Sirikit in 2004 when some Buddhist monks were killed in a particularly 
brutal way in a monastery she happened to be staying at  The Queen 
subsequently encouraged Buddhists to learn how to use a gun, claiming she 
was doing so herself, and one of the complaints by the Muslims is that the 
govt. is funneling guns to the Buddhists while outlawing weapon possession 
by Muslims. Some of the Buddhist militias are stationed in monasteries, and 
some civilian militias train on monastery grounds, with no discernible 
disapproval from the resident monastics. Whether monks themselves are taking 
up arms is the part hard to confirm beyond Jerryson's claims.

Here are some excerpts (with links to the full articles) available on the 
web, for those interested in exploring this further:

(1) ...the Royal Aide-de-Camp department, under Queen Sirikit's direction, 
established a parallel volunteer scheme, the Village Protection Force (Or 
Ror Bor) in September 2004. Its volunteers receive ten- to fifteen-days 
military training, an improvement on the Chor Ror Bor's three days, but 
hardly adequate for confrontations with well-armed and organised militants. 
Unlike the Chor Ror Bor militia, whose make-up broadly reflects the 
demographic balance of the region, the Or Ror Bor is almost exclusively 
Buddhist, often stationed in temple compounds and tasked with protecting 
Buddhist communities.

The Buddhist minority in the South feels increasingly threatened. Muslim 
militants have attempted to drive Buddhists from several areas. Officials, 
civilians and even monks have been targeted in gruesome killings apparently 
designed to provoke retaliation. Many Buddhists, frustrated with the 
government's failure to provide adequate protection, are taking matters into 
their own hands. Private militias are being established throughout the 
South, with varying degrees of official sanction and support.


International Crisis Group

Operations Command (ISOC). Under the Chor Ror Bor program, each village has 
30 volunteers who are provided by the military three days of training and 15 

Both Buddhists and Muslims are recruited into the Chor Ror Bor, depending on 
the ethnic makeup of villages. The village headman is the nominal leader of 
each unit, which is tasked with guarding the village and protecting 
government infrastructure and buildings, including state schools. Since the 
upsurge in violence began in early 2004, the Chor Ror Bor program has nearly 
doubled from 24,300 to some 47,400 armed volunteers.

Recruitment is ongoing towards the aim of providing each of the 1,580 
villages in the insurgency hit provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala 
with a unit of 30 volunteers. More controversial are the Or Ror Bor units, 
or Village Protection Volunteers, which are not answerable directly to the 
Ministry of Interior or 4th Army Division, which is responsible for security 
in the south, but rather come under the Royal Aide de Camp Department, a 
unit of the Defense Ministry responsible for the protection of the royal 

The Or Ror Bor were founded by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit in September 2004 
in response to an attack on a Buddhist village in Narathiwat province, where 
she was residing at the time at her Taksin Ratchanives palace, according to 
a 2007 International Crisis Group report. Queen Sirikit gave a notable 
speech on November 16, 2004, in which she suggested Thai Buddhists in the 
three southern border provinces learn how to shoot, according to respected 
Thai academic Duncan McCargo in an article published in February in The 
Journal of Southeast Asia Studies.

Training for the initial 1,000 Or Ror Bor recruits in Narathiwat was 
provided by Deputy Royal Aide de Camp General Naphol Boonthap, a former 2nd 
Army Division commander and assistant army commander who retired from the 
armed forces in 2001. Since then, the units have grown to include 24,763 
volunteers comprised of 13 battalions and eight companies, according to 
research conducted by Non-Violence International, a non-governmental 
organization promoting non-violent methods of social and political change.
On the ground, the proliferation of predominantly Buddhist militias is 
raising tensions. Perceptions are growing among Malay Muslims that the top 
levels of government have provided at least tacit support for Buddhist 
vigilante gangs - which operate separately from the militias - that have 
been accused of conducting violent reprisals against Muslim villagers for 
insurgent attacks.
Or Ror Bor recruitment has been done almost exclusively among Buddhists and 
units are often based in Buddhist temple compounds or explicitly ordered to 
protect Buddhist communities. A recent report by Non-Violence International 
cites a Thai general serving with the Or Ror Bor saying that only Buddhists 
are recruited to the group since they can be "trusted". Buddhists make up 
around 20% of the population in the Thailand's southernmost three provinces, 
which is predominantly Malay Muslim.

As reported in the Thai-language Daily News, at a press conference in July 
2005, General Naphol said, "The queen told them [villagers in Narathiwat] 
that as they were born here and their ancestors earned their livelihoods 
here, they should not migrate elsewhere. They should find ways to protect 
themselves ... The queen often said that everyone has a right to defend 
himself in the face of danger. The training is not aimed at encouraging 
people to arm themselves to attack others. There is no intention to divide 
people who have different religious beliefs."

But the growing number of independent Buddhist militias that apparently 
operate outside of the state security apparatus are having just that effect, 
according to locals. These militias are known to be poorly organized and 
often consist of villagers who have acquired their own weapons to protect 
themselves against insurgent attacks. One of these predominantly Buddhist 
groups, known as Ruam Thai or "Thai United", has gained an estimated 8,000 
recruits, of which only a couple of hundred are known to be Muslim.
The growing membership to various semi-official and unofficial militia 
groups arises from feelings of distrust and insecurity among Buddhist 
villagers in the region who often feel government security forces have 
failed to provide adequate protection against insurgent attacks. Local 
villagers point to sustained deadly attacks on security forces, which 
villagers say shows the military and police cannot even protect themselves.

Siege mentality
Many in the restive region feel under siege from a nameless, faceless Muslim 
insurgency that has often resorted to brutal methods in its killings of 
Buddhists, including beheadings and violent murdering of Buddhist monks and 
state officials. A black-and-white view has emerged among many Buddhists 
here that Muslims are the sole perpetrators of the violence, despite 
statistics that show more Muslims have been killed in the shadowy conflict.

Many Buddhists avoid entering Muslim villages and neighborhoods altogether, 
or race through them at high speed with their car windows rolled up and 
doors locked, as this correspondent did while being driven recently by an 
off-duty paramilitary and his girlfriend through the center of Raman town in 
Yala province.

The sense of fear and isolation has also reflexively fueled heightened 
levels of nationalism among many Thai Buddhists in the region. For them the 
struggle is evolving into one of preserving not only their own security, but 
that of the Thai nation against what they perceive as Muslim-led irredentism 
in the three southernmost provinces, which historically were ruled by the 
sultanate of Pattani until being consolidated into the Thai state at the 
turn of the 20th century.

Brian McCartan is a Bangkok-based freelance journalist. He may be reached at 
brianpm at comcast.net .

(3) [Time magazine piece, includes picture of civilian women, the Iron 
Ladies, training in a Buddhist temple's grounds]

To try to combat the slaughter, Thailand has unleashed a massive surge, 
sending nearly 70,000 security forces into a region populated by 1.7 million 
people. But the authorities have also encouraged local residents to arm 
themselves and form militias with fanciful names like the Iron Ladies, the 
Night Butterflies and the Eyes of a Pineapple. Around 100,000 civilians are 
now members of such armed groups, and they either receive free guns from the 
military or can buy them at deeply subsidized rates. The majority of militia 
members come from Buddhist ranks because the government feels they are most 
vulnerable to attack.

Is handing thousands of firearms to briefly trained and skittish citizens 
the best strategy? Lieutenant General Pichet Wisaijorn, the Fourth Army 
commander in charge of security in a region fortified by miles of razor wire 
and tons of sandbag bunkers, contends that there's no alternative to a 
weapons buildup. "If everyone threw away their guns, that would be 
wonderful," he says. "But if the insurgents have guns and no one else does, 
that's not fair. We have to help people feel secure, and guns give them 

Critics of the arms proliferation are calling for the government to address 
the root causes of discontent in Thailand's south - on both sides of the 
sectarian divide. Buddhists complain that an environment where simply 
commuting to work exposes them to possible assassination is unacceptable. 
They feel that too few insurgents have been punished for their crimes and 
wonder why the Thai authorities have not done a better job infiltrating 
militant cells. In turn, Muslims resent what they see as an official 
attitude that regards members of their religion as potential terrorists who 
must be suppressed by draconian emergency laws. Perceived discrimination 
against Muslims has so penetrated large segments of the population that it 
is likely feeding the radicalization of a new generation of extremists.

There's no question that Thailand's southern tip is increasingly awash in 
guns. The number of legally registered weapons in the three provinces has 
jumped 10% each year since 2004, and many more are owned illegally. The 
state readily distributes firearms to everyone from teachers to government 
officials. In Narathiwat's Tak Bai district, for instance, none of the 56 
village chiefs owned a gun before 2004. Now all do. "Guns can't totally 
protect us against insurgents," says Yoon Yerntorn, chief of Tak Bai's 
Buddhist Sai Khao village, where five locals have been killed over the past 
few years. "But at least we can try to shoot back." (Read "Despite Outreach, 
Violence Is Up In Southern Thailand.")

Forty other Sai Khao citizens have banded together as a unit of a village 
militia called the Or Ror Bor. Nearly all of the 25,000-strong Or Ror Bor 
operating in the three provinces are Buddhist, and their corps was inspired 
by no less an authority than the Queen of Thailand. In late 2004, after 
three Buddhists were brutally beheaded by militants, Queen Sirikit gave an 
impassioned speech advising the military to teach villagers how to defend 
themselves with firearms. Facing the cameras, she announced that even she 
"would learn to shoot guns without my glasses on."
With the violence showing no signs of dissipating, Buddhist civilian 
militias patrol potentially dangerous street junctions or congregate in 
temple grounds where they peer through monsoon downpours with shotguns at 
the ready. One morning at the temple of Chang Hai Tok village in Pattani 
province, a batch of Iron Ladies, outfitted all in black, runs through 
military exercises. Surveying the training from behind a trio of Buddha 
statues, 60-year-old abbot Pracharoonkittisophano shrugs his shoulders when 
asked whether women twirling rifles, along with a shooting range behind his 
sleeping quarters, elicits any spiritual discomfort. "Guns are normal things 
in our world," he says. "I see them on TV all the time, and the types of 
guns used here are much safer than the big ones on TV." Until they kill.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1938511,00.html

If others have additional information, please share.


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