Southern Thailand – No End In Sight?

Pretty much every day you can read about new attacks and killings in Thailand’s troubled south.

It’s interesting that the military leaders in charge always seem to be very happy with the progress that is being made, and if you listen to them it sounds as if things are getting a lot better.

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A powerful blast that killed nine civilians and a brazen raid on a military base in Thailand’s troubled southern provinces show that a conflict that has killed 4,300 people in seven years is far from over.

Just as the government and the armed forces lauded the success of public relations campaigns and measures to undermine the rebel movement in the Muslim majority region, the shadowy militants struck back with the biggest and deadliest attacks in almost two years.

The renewed violence, while a setback for the government, is unlikely to damage its stability or the ruling Democrats’ popularity in the south ahead of possible elections this year.

The government and military are focussed on tackling security issues in Bangkok. Developments in its three restive provinces bordering Malaysia, 1,100 km (680 miles) south of the capital, have had little impact on nationwide public opinion.

Experts who follow the conflict in the south say the nature of two recent attacks suggest the insurgents are eager to discredit government claims of success and to force authorities towards a political solution.

A January 19 raid on an army outpost in Narathiwat province, a stronghold of the ethnic Malay rebels was well-planned and tactically sophisticated.

Four soldiers were killed, among them the unit commander, their living quarters set ablaze and about 50 weapons looted in an assault described by IHS-Jane’s security analyst Anthony Davis as what could be the “opening shots of a new and more militarily aggressive phase of conflict.”

“The attack on the base clearly demonstrated they wish to make a point,” Davis said.

“It wasn’t just a weapons raid, it sent a political message that the government shouldn’t underestimate them and they’re not going to put down their guns and walk away.”

Cease-fire ‘DOWNPLAYED’

Davis, a prominent researcher of the conflict, said the raid may have also been a response to the military failing to take seriously a unilateral month-long cease-fire declared by the insurgents last July in three districts in Narathiwat province.

The cease-fire aimed to dispel assertions that the rebel leaders did not have full control of fighters on the ground.

“It was clear the military tried to downplay this as much as possible. Those who organised this took great risks and they were slighted and made to feel they weren’t important,” he said.

It’s interesting to ask: how did downplaying the ceasefire help to better the situation? What possible benefit might have come from downplaying the situation? It’s not easy to come up with a good answer to that. And it begs the question: what is the army more concerned about? Looking good or solving the situation?

The decades-old separatist rebellion resurfaced in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces in 2004, with a new generation of militants thought to be leading the insurrection.

The region was a Malay Muslim sultanate before it was annexed by Buddhist Thailand in 1909 and separatist tension has simmered since and led to low-level conflict fought mainly in the jungles during the 1970s and 1980s. That changed in 2004 into a violent and well-organised ethno-nationalist struggle.

A security force of more than 60,000 has been deployed in the region since then, about 40,000 of them troops.

Srisomphob Jitphiromsri, a political scientist at Pattani’s Prince of Songkhla University, said the recent attacks showed the government may not have made as much progress as it might have thought, particularly in its public-relations drive.

The military has used development projects and a hearts-and-minds campaign to try to win support.

“The large troop presence may have led to a reduction in violence but there is still a negative attitude towards the security forces,” Srisomphob said.

“The militants still are very strong and have a solid grassroots structure. The claims of progress by the government was probably seen by the insurgents as a challenge to them.”

Source: Reuters

Drugs in Southern Provinces

seizures of illicit drugs in Yala, Pattani & Narathiwat

  • 2008: 5297
  • 2009: 5886
  • first quarter 2010: 2172

Of all the narcotics drugs seized, krathom has been identified as the most popular illicit drug among youth in the region followed up by methamphetamine which is also known as “ice”, “crystal meth” or “crystal”.  Narathiwat province has been fingered as the biggest transit point of methamphetamine.

Source: Drug abuses and trafficking in the far South

Southern Thailand Violence: Hundreds of Schools Closed

After two teachers got killed yesterday, hundreds of schools in Thailand’s deep South closed down for three days. There was also a 10kg bomb found in Yala the same day, hidden at a traffic police point.

It’s not exactly clear how many schools are closed – some news sources say 365 schools in Narathiwat, while others say the number is higher than 400 schools. In a way, both could be right – 365 schools in Narathiwat and more schools in Yala and Pattani.

After that, PM Abhisit ordered the Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat and Deputy Interior Minister Thavorn Senniam to visit the troubled Southern Thailand. He also said he would want to visit himself, but is not able to at this time because of other responsibilities he has to take care of first.

Since 2004, more than 4200 people have been killed. Prior to the latest killings, there were flyers distributed in Narathiwat that said: “WANTED: 20 Buddhist teacher deaths”. The death toll for teachers and school workers is now at 135 people.

Bombs; Special Sponsorships; Hope

There has been a significant increase in violence in the South, just when it seemed that things had been calming down. Three bombs, it appears, have exploded in Narathiwat injuring 71 people and killing one woman. Two other people have been murdered this week. The bombings coincide with the return of children to school but the bombs do not seem to have been aimed at them directly.

A Human Rights Watch spokesperson has suggested that using such high powered explosives to take out remote targets suggests the insurgents were making some specific point to the local security services. The spokesperson criticizes the government for treating the insurgency as a law and order issue rather than searching for a political solution – well, I am not sure who makes these decisions. The PM is also the Defence Minister but the army leader does not do what he is told.

Khunying Kasama Voravan na Ayudhya of the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) has asked secondary schools to maintain some lucky draws in accepting admissions in addition to direct exams. However, since OBEC is not going to put this in writing, it appears to be a totally voluntary undertaking. As any parent will tell you, when schools accept pupils on non-transparent grounds, there is the likelihood of ‘special sponsorships’ taking place, which paupers the parents and cheats other pupils.

Meanwhile, there is some cause for hope on the other side of the Pacific – as the Americans make ready to vote for a new President. I know that it is unlikely that even Sarah Palin would be as disastrous as the current incumbent (although I would not like to find out) but it is quite possible that we will get President Obama – possible but not certain. McCain has done his job by keeping the lead down to less than 10% so that is still possible for the election to be stolen again – the Bradley effect will be blamed (and it may have some impact) while voter suppression does the real damage. We shall see how it turns out.