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South Thailand: Governmental strategies backfiring?

Updated On: Oct 26, 2007

Another wave of violence has swept through the Thai South recently, just after the Muslims marked the end of Ramadan.

Daily killings, usually conducted by drive-by shootings, have continued unabated.

A potentially deadly bombing was averted just this week. On Tuesday, Thai police found a 15-kg improvised bomb planted at an eatery in Songkhla. It is believed that the rebels “who planted it intended to detonate it after authorities arrived at the scene, but did not get the chance to set it off”. The eatery has been a scene of violence with the previous owners being shot on the premises and a dud bomb planted just two weeks ago. Another fake bomb was found in Narathiwat's Rangae railway station on Wednesday at the same time an arson attack was carried out there.

In reaction to all this, Thai authorities have stepped up vigilance. On Monday, the 9:00 pm to 4:00 am curfew was reimposed in Yala's Yaha and Bannang Sata districts. On Wednesday, a police and military team arrested a suspect of this May’s Songkhla market blast. On the same day, another combined force arrested seven insurgent suspects in a raid in Narathiwat.

In addition, the Fourth Army has announced that the 384 suspected insurgents rounded up in June this year will be banned from returning to the Southern provinces for six months until 21 January 2008. They are currently “receiving training in professional development or religious studies in Surat Thani, Ranong or Chumphon”. Some of the suspects are waiting for next Tuesday’s provincial court rulings for their release.

Army spokesman Col Acra Tiproch said that this ban is supported by Islamic leaders and the National Human Rights Commission's (NHRC) rights protection sub-panel. Surasee Kosolnawin, chairman of the NHRC's sub-committee, told the Bangkok Post that jailing the suspects was “not the answer to the southern violence [as] professional training and finding them work was what they needed”. Moreover, the suspects are apparently willing to take up these courses. However, Somchai Hom-laor, secretary-general of the Foundation for Human Rights and Development, disagreed. He said “the foundation had received complaints from relatives of at least 80 suspects who were detained and forced to attend the training courses, even during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan” and that the army should not have dragged the NHRC “into the matter as a supporter of the ban”.

The authorities know that the spotlight is on them and are keen to polish up their reputation. Seri Nimayu, a member of a peace-building advisory council under the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC), has admitted a number of complaints of “officers resorting to violent means” and has asked the SBPAC to step up monitoring efforts to curtail extrajudicial brutality.

However, this may only be window-dressing. The International Crisis Group’s (ICG) recent report –Southern Thailand: The Problem with Paramilitaries –has unveiled the real impunity of state forces. There are at least 30,000 police and army personnel in the South, and the government keeps increasing the number of forces to quell the violence. Exacerbating the problem is the presence of 6,000 paramilitary rangers and the training of “thousands of mostly Buddhist villagers to serve in militias. The Buddhist militias have even been armed with “shotguns for self-defence”. This phenomenon is a manifestation of the Thai government’s increasing inability to deal with the South.

ICG analyst Francesca Lawe-Davies said that the sub-contraction of security to poorly-trained paramilitaries and militias is not a solution as “they tend to have worse records than professional troops on human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings and often stoke communal tensions” –something which is definitely not needed in the brittle South situation now.

John Virgoe, ICG South East Asia Project Director, states that what is needed most urgently is a political solution. In the meantime, the Thai authorities must consolidate and strengthen the professionalism of the regular armed forces and police. The paramilitaries “may continue to play a useful support role but should be given additional military and humanitarian law training and closer supervision, to improve discipline and curb abuses”. As for the Buddhist militias, they should be disarmed and disbanded, with tighter firearm licences for the South.

It would be good for Sonthi Boonyaratglin to sit up and take notice of these warnings instead of allegedly plotting against the Thaksin Shinawatra-linked People’s Power Party. If he wants to stay in politics, he had better do his job as deputy prime minister. (25 October 2007)

Sources:

Two Muslim men killed in Thai south, curfew imposed (AFP, 25 October 2007) Suspect in bombing of fresh market is captured (Bangkok Post, 25 October 2007)

Islamic leaders support entry ban (Bangkok Post, 24 October 2007)

Police get rid of bomb just in time (Bangkok Post, 24 October 2007)

Report: Poorly trained militias hindering efforts to tackle Thai insurgency (AP, 24 October 2007)

Sonthi softens his denial of a ploy against PPP (Nation, 24 October 2007)

Samak lashes out at Sonthi (Bangkok Post, 24 October 2007)

Samak might be duped by faked documents (Nation, 24 October 2007)

CNS denies anti-PPP plot (Bangkok Post, 24 October 2007)

Royal decree on the December 23 election takes effect tomorrow (Nation, 24 October 2007)

Democrats open campaign centre (Nation, 24 October 2007)

Southern Thailand: The Problem with Paramilitaries (ICG, 23 October 2007)