I first joined the Pattani Peace Walk on 26 July 2010, and covered a distance of 28 kilometers from Prachuab Khiri Khan town to Tab-sakae district over the course of one day. I surprised myself with how much I could actually walk in a day. Life in Bangkok is different. I leave home every morning with my car key to start the engine. Then, after driving to work, I walk not even 20 steps to my office from the car. With regards to short distances in Bangkok, even between bus stops, my response is “No way, I’d rather not.”
In addition, I was amazed by the power of steps and minds of the members of the Pattani Peace Walk team. I have observed the teams committed to walking peacefully to Pattani beginning on 11 July 2010. I am now convinced that the power of steps and minds of the team contribute to a peaceful Pattani like a MIRACLE.
Pattani is the destination of the Peace Walk. Not all teams perceive the complexity of the problem in Pattani, but everyone believes that peace can happen. Everyone knows that in order to end the conflict, they will have to stop killing each other and respect each other. The walk team believes that they will deliver their last steps to the people of Pattani and this will become the first step for peace in Pattani.
It is intended to spark understanding to all parties about the importance of ending violence and creating peace together. But how can we reach this goal when some cannot see clearly? I think that as the Peace Walk teams grow closer to Pattani, each step will bring this goal closer.
The first day of the walk was the first time that I had walked such a long distance. I was advised to walk with mindfulness, to do a Dhamma walk. This way, it is possible to easily walk tens of kilometers. Someone explained that in doing a Dhamma walk, it makes it possible for a group of people who are walking together to share life and principles larger than personal, daily usual life. Sharing life and living, eating, and resting together is as a community for one period of time makes it possible to practice mindfulness. It is simultaneously aimed to create peace in one’s heart. It is meant to create friendship and also peacefulness which can in some way reach society.
But my heart was not at rest.
My thoughts were with a 16-years old boy who had been detained for more than seven days.
Why have young people become the target of using and creating violence as a cycle of brutality? Isn’t this a child who should be protected? In my mind, I felt anger towards those who used children to create violence, and felt anger towards the authorities involved in suppression who want to use children as witnesses and informants, and who arrest and detain them for interrogation. Later I learned that the 16-year-old child was released after being detained and interrogated for an additional three days. That day I traveled back to Bangkok to work.
The second time that I joined the walk; I walked for almost 200 km between the provinces of Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat. From 11 to19 August 2010 during the walk I announced (by sending SMS) that I had joined the team of Ajarn Gothom Arya of Research Center for Peace Building at Mahidol University.
But I didn’t hear from anyone in Pattani what they thought about the initiative.
This Patani Peace Walk covered more than 1100 kilometers over 50 days. There were people from the central, northern, and northeastern regions, and news of the walk was even broadcast on television a few times. There were villagers along the route who gave encouragement to the walkers and even gave us food and water. But we heard very few voices from the people in Pattani. We did not have even one person from Pattani walking with us … I didn’t let this slip through our minds.
While walking I received sad news by telephone; a detainee died in jail, it is unknown why. He was arrested in Yala about a year ago. While in arrest he was being questioned and he experienced assault leaving him unconscious for two days. When he woke up, he was in a police station. Court proceedings continue till today. He still suffered side effects from the assault which required him to go to the hospital in and outside prison. Relatives refused to allow the doctor to perform an autopsy, so we do not know the actual cause of death. It is said that he was collapsed by himself and died the day before the start of Ramadan. Now, even during the month of Ramadan which started on August 12, the sounds of explosions and gun fire can be heard.
On the third day of the walk, I received a telephone call from Narathiwat, telling me that a suspect who was fleeing an arrest warrant had been shot dead. Previously, we had tried to help him surrender, but were unsuccessful. Many suspects lack confidence in the judicial process. There are also other factors which may cause them to choose paths other than the Thai legal system.
Each path might have its own stories. For me, I have long been aware of the violence in the southern-most three provinces. What needs to be done for all sides to have mercy and show goodwill towards each other? Without discrimination and respecting each other; prisoners in jail need to have access to better health care. People and officers should be confident to use a peaceful approach to demand what they want. Tolerance, from and for all parties is to make the sound of the guns and the sound of the bombs die down.
With the footsteps coming closer to Pattani, sisters and brothers of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat began to inspire me. Some said, “When you are almost here, we will walk with you also.” I received a phone call from a soldier in the area who said that he was going to join the walk to Pattani also. Some sent us snacks and said to tell him if we needed Some offered if we needed anything. Their encouragement gave some relief to the foot ulcers. I got reassured that the efforts of outsiders will continue to create goodwill. The recognition of the Muslim brothers and sisters and of some soldiers in the area in the past 6-7 years is enough to show that our voice has been heard. But how can we make a vague image more concrete?
During the walk from the Surat Thani province to Nakhon Si Thammarat, we walked on Highway 401. For much of the trip, we walked through Thai Buddhist and Muslim villagers along toast of the Gulf of Thailand. This caused us to recognize and understand the economic problems of the area of southern Thai referred to as the Southern Seaboard, and the problems of environmental degradation, those caused by man and the nature, These problems have greatly affected the way of the life of people living along the coast. This also made us realize that there is conflict everywhere in Thailand, but in many places people can still lives together without violence.
Are there paths to ending violence? And what must we do? This Peace Walk to Pattani helped spread the message of peace. Yet while we were walking, Ajarn Gothom Arya told the people we met all along the path that the Walk was only a “process.” Now, Ajarn Pramuan Phengchan (former Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Faculty of Humanities, Chiang Mai University who walked from Chiang Mai province to his hometown in Ko Samui, Surat Thani province, and wrote a book called Walk for Freedom) has used the word “a plot”
But the way of reaching peace of each side must be done with hands, or feet, together.
Whether it is “a process” or “a plot,” and whether it succeeds this time or not … How much longer will the sound of bullets of guns and bombs be louder than the call for peace? The final signal that I heard the last night was a friend from Narathiwat was going to travel to meet the Peace Walk team in Pattani on 1 September at the Pattani Central Mosque.
We hope the call for peace will truly drown out the sound of bombs, with the determination of every steps of peace-loving person in this world.