Much of the news that comes from the Thai south remains unchanged –daily bombings, killings, frequent visits by Bangkok officials, and discussions with Malaysian counterparts, yet nothing has changed at all.
It is quite predictable that the extension of the emergency law for another three months, as announced by the Thai Cabinet on Tuesday (17 July), will not amount to any substantive procurement of peace.
The bombs that went off at a Yala intersection on the same day as the emergency extension was announced caught the Thai authorities off-guard. The Nation reported that the second bomb “appeared to have been targeted at police and forensic officers who were called to the scene after the [first] bomb that was much smaller”. The second blast, detonated by remote control, killed one police officer and wounded at least 20 people including three journalists who were reporting at the scene.
This recent bombing puts a large dent in Yala officials’ optimism for peace as there had not been any bombings for the past three weeks ever since the after a month-long round-up and detention of more than 350 suspected insurgents and sympathizers. However, as in all security measures for the South, the efficacy of this round-up is suspect.
An editorial in the Nation has criticized the government crackdown, saying it was more for show than real action to quell the violence and that it remained to be seen whether this would be “effective in flushing out the rebels who have been living among the civilian population”. Moreover, those in custody now need to be properly investigated and dealt with by the rule of law, and not arbitrarily and brutally as was the case during the Thaksin administration. The Nation editorial insisted that “every effort must be made to ensure that all the suspects are accorded the due process of law and that their human rights are respected”.
It added that the sharp increment of almost Bt150 billion for the military in the South needed to be justified by “a better job of defending the country against the enemy”, and not just the “self-congratulation” that has been making the headlines. Most crucially, more common sense is needed in the army deployment and logistics, especially in the forming of a cohesive security grid spanning the whole region.
A round-up of suspected militants is useless when they meld so inconspicuously with the civilian population. With the huge amount of manpower (at least 30,000 troops) stationed in the South, establishing “small, well-armed and highly mobile units strategically positioned and connected through sound communication channels and supported by rapid-deployment reinforcements” should not be a problem. It was said that “without security grids, insurgents continue to have freedom of movement [and] are just sitting around waiting to detonate the bombs that take out approaching police or military vehicles”.
The insurgents are fast gaining the upper-hand while the Thai army twiddles its thumbs, boasts about its phantom achievements and suffers more casualties. Yet, “the Army doesn't seem to be learning from the challenges that it is up against”. An obvious example can be found in the recent bombings. Caught unprepared with no fire fighters or medical personnel at the scene, it defied belief that the authorities could admit openly that the “second-bomb tactic” was a common tactic used by the insurgents.
The military must realise that despite its self-belief, the public remains unconvinced of its so-called triumphs. If the army really deserves such a huge boost from the public coffers, it had better buck up fast. (18 July 2007)
Govt extends emergency law in the Deep South (Nation, 18 July 2007)
Second bomb proves deadly at Yala station (Nation, 18 July 2007)
Thai professional bomb-maker caught in south (Straits Times, 18 July 2007)
Second blast kills bomb expert, injures 18 (Bangkok Post, 18 July 2007)
Editorial: Army offensive or publicity stunt? (Nation, 17 July 2007)
Hundreds of Suspected Insurgents in Custody in Thai South (IrrawaddyNews Magazine, 9 July 2007)