3rd Anniversery of Tak Bai

I took a train to Yala City in 1994.  My friend, Michel Fagot, was teaching English to teenagers and adults. The Frenchman spoke English like Pep Pee Le Phew, the cartoon skunk. His accent was better than the local teachers according to his Thai wife, who worked at a private school.

The head mistress was an old woman attached to the royal family. Thais would drop to their knees whenever she entered a room. This subservience was a little too feudal and I confined my respect to a dignified wai.

This privileged woman appreciated being treated like a human instead of a god. She asked me to drive her around the province. We visited the Pattani Sultan. It’s one thing to have bad manners. It’s another to know when not to use them. I greeted the ruler with a a more graceful bow. He invited us to tea at his seaside palace. Good manners pay off sometimes.


Yala was a quiet province. Rubber plantations buzzing with locust. A city asleep a few hours after sunset. Violence? No bombs. No soldiers. Only graffiti calling for autonomy.

Then Michel decided his wife was seeing another man. A Thai Muslim. She said Michel was crazy and left the house. Michel drank a liter of Mekhong whiskey mumbling threats in French. My attempts to reason with him were met with a dismissive wave of his hand. Mekhong has a tendency to drive a man mad and I went to sleep, thinking it was time to leave Yala.

I woke up at dawn.

Michel stood at the end of my bed. A long katana or Japanese sword in his hands.

“I am going to kill her.”

To demonstrate his determination he slashed the doorway to kindling.

I wrestled him to the ground. It was a good thing he was drunk or else I might have gotten hurt. He cried when I threw the sword out the window. After burying the weapon in the garden, I told him, “Everything is going to work out.”

How was I to know it was a lie.

His wife was seeing another man. They did a runner to Bangkok. Michel drank more and more. A week later his wife returned in tears. The other man had spent all her money gambling. She confessed to being a fool. Michel took her back.

The old lady was disgusted by the drama and asked me to drive her to Chiang Mai.

It took us a week.

I’ve never been back to Yala, but tell Thais that there never was any trouble in those southern provinces back then. Too many people have died for them to believe a farang.
Especially at Tak Bai.

October 25, 2004.

Six village guards were arrested for surrendering their rifles to armed men. Police responded to a demonstration demanding the release of the prisoners by calling in the army. The government has claimed that the demonstrators attempted to storm the police station and defended their position with live rounds, killing as many as 6 locals.

Hundreds of young men, were seized by the combined forces of the police and army. With their arms bound behind their backs they were stacked facedown like sardines into trucks for processing at a nearby army base. When the trucks reached Pattani 3 hours later as many of 85 prisoners had died from asphyxiation. 

During the transfer the commanding military officer was at a dinner with the then-PM, who said later that the men were mostly drug addicts weakened by the Ramadan fast. Easy to say on a full stomach.

The former PM never said sorry, although the present PM formally apologized last year.

All DVDs of the incident are banned in Thailand and Yala is no longer quiet.

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