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Thai junta too quick to dismiss insurgency, say analysts

History of gov't claiming violence outside of 3 troubled southern provinces not work of insurgents, only to be proved wrong

15.08.2016
Thai junta too quick to dismiss insurgency, say analysts

Yala

- Don Pathan is an associate with Asia Conflict and Security Consulting, Ltd and is based in Yala, one of Thailand's three southernmost provinces hit by the current wave of insurgency

By Don Pathan

YALA, Thailand

Central authorities in Thailand are dismissing the notion that Malay insurgents in the far south could be the main organizers of Thursday and Friday’s bombings, but speaking to Anadolu Agency local officials on the ground consider the rejection premature.

The military junta has been quick to reject suggestions that international terrorists were involved in the blasts that killed four, but have given contradicting comments about the possibility that they were the work of Malay Muslim insurgents from the southernmost provinces.

On Saturday, Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan was quoted in the Bangkok Post as saying: “Politics could be one cause... but I cannot confirm it.”

However, he ruled out the insurgency in Thailand's far South -- which has claimed 7,000 lives in the past 12 years -- had played a role.

National Police Chief Chakthip Chaijinda, on the other hand, said the perpetrators "may" be connected to the insurgency. In other words, if it was the insurgents from the far South, it could very well be that they were working with an anti-junta entity to discredit the government.

But talking privately to Anadolu Agency on Sunday, security officials working within the southern community have accused the junta and policy makers in Bangkok of reaching premature conclusions about the motivation and identity of the culprits, while the case is still under investigation.

They have said that such an attitude does more harm than good for the integrity of the case itself, suggesting that the credibility of law enforcement and whatever findings they come up with could be compromised.

Historically, it is nothing new for senior officials in Bangkok to quickly rule out the possible involvement of Malay Muslim separatists in incidents outside the southernmost provinces.

Often, however, it is a knee jerk reaction.

Government and army spokesmen were quick to dismiss a car bomb in the parking lot at a Koh Samui shopping mall in April 2015. However, their claims were undermined after it was discovered days later that the truck in which the bomb was hidden had been stolen from Yala, one of the three southernmost provinces scarred by ongoing insurgency violence.

Similarly, a bomb attack in May 2013 at the corner of a busy Bangkok street was also dismissed right away as having any connection to the far South.

Again, it was revealed later in the course of investigation that the four suspects, who were eventually convicted and sentenced to a 66-year jail term each, were residents of Narathiwat, also one of the three conflict-affected provinces.

Thai military and police officers are now accusing policy makers in Bangkok of being too eager to protect the country’s tourism industry.

Speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation, they say the Thai government also doesn't want to make the connection to the far South because they do not want to admit policy failure.

Under the 2001-2006 rule of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- whose family dominated Thai politics for 15 years until his sister's government was deposed in a 2014 coup -- several missteps resulted in the loss of innocent lives, the most famous being the 2004 suffocation death of 78 Muslim detainees after they were stacked atop one another in trucks following a demonstration.

Since then, Thailand has pursued what it says is a "peaceful resolution" to the insurgency, but has so far failed to negotiate with all the different factions in the conflict.

Although peace talks in 2015 stalled over Thailand's failure to recognize insurgent claims that the region was originally independent, Bangkok has consistently insisted that their policy is on track, pointing to the fact that the overall number of attacks has decreased over the years and the fact that the theatre of violence has been contained to the Malay-speaking southernmost border provinces.

According to figures from the Prince of Songkhla University -- the oldest university in southern Thailand -- violence peaked in 2007 with 1,850 insurgency-related violent incidents, with it dropping to 821 in 2008.

The Thai Army took credit for the decrease in numbers, but sources from the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) -- a Pattani-based independence movement -- have said that the drop has to do with pressure at grassroots level, as well as from religious leaders who demanded some degree of civility in their BRN activities.

These demands and pressure have not only forced the number to come down but brought an end to various acts, such as the beheading and castrating of dead government soldiers, arson attacks against public schools and teachers, as well as attacks on Buddhist temples and monks.

If it was discovered that last week's spate of bombings and arson attacks were the work of the insurgents from the far South, it would amount to an admission of policy failure and undermine the claim by the authorities that they have succeeded in containing the conflict to the Muslim-majority, Malay-speaking region.

The collective region of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat -- a Malay historical homeland -- came under direct Bangkok rule at the turn of the century after Siam and British Malaya agreed on a common border.

But insurgency erupted in the mid-1960s in response to the Thaipolicy of assimilation that local Malays strongly objected to as it came at the expense of their cultural and historical identity.

Outside of last year’s Koh Samui bomb, in December 2013 separatist militants stole a truck from the far South, packed a twin-bomb with a blast radius of 500 meters on the back and parked it behind a police station in Phuket.

The bomb didn't go off, but was no failure as it was left purely as a warning, separatist sources have told Anadolu Agency.

There was also a spate of bombings on New Year’s Eve 2007 that killed three and injured 38 people.

Although initial reaction from the military-installed government of Surayud Chulanont dismissed any link to the insurgency in the south, a police team tasked with investigating the incident ruled three months later that Malay Muslim separatists were responsible for the attack.

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