Thailand: There Is Another


June 27, 2011: Most Thais are hoping that the July 3rd national elections will solve the current divisions that threaten to turn into civil war. The populist red shirts not only have a majority (according to polls) in the upcoming elections, but have put their opponents (the royalist yellow shirts) on the defensive by promising amnesty for yellow shirts if the populists win. This would make another coup (which, as with all military takeovers, risks civil war) less likely. The amnesty covers the 2006 coup and the 91 politically motivated deaths red shirts have been protesting ever since. The red shirts have another unexpected advantage in Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra (the exiled former prime minister and red shirt hero). She is young (44), pretty, rich and has many of the same political skills as her brother. Yingluck only began campaigning last month, and immediately shot to the front in the polls, taking her party with her.

The upcoming elections are unlikely to end the Islamic terrorism in the south. There, seven years of violence have caused 15,000 casualties and 10-20 incidents of violence each week.  But the violence is intertwined with local criminal activity and long-standing ethnic and religious tensions. For example, ethnic Thais (who tend to be Buddhist and better educated) dominate most of the commerce in the south. The largely Moslem Malays (90 percent of the two million people down there) dominate the local smuggling gangs. This is a big money maker for the Malays, especially since it's easier for them to deal with Moslem Malays from neighboring Malaysia. The smugglers bring in drugs, cigarettes, fuel and other goods, often by paying off local officials (both Buddhists and Malays.) The ethnic Thais are harder to bribe, and considered less trustworthy by the gangs. The "Islamic uprising" calls for creating an autonomous Islamic state with the three majority Moslem southern provinces. But this would ruin the smuggling business, so most of the violence appears directed at driving Buddhists out of the south and weakening police capabilities. The seven years of violence has caused over 200,000 Buddhists to flee, taking their skills and money with them. This has made adjacent provinces wealthier, and economic growth in the Moslem south more difficult.

Wikileaks documents revealed that the 83 year old king is closer to death than commonly believed, and that the crown prince is seen as weak and not the best candidate to succeed his father. The queen and his sister might oppose the crown prince becoming the new king, and this could split the royalist political parties as well.

Along the Cambodian border, the situation has been quiet for the last few weeks. But negotiations over ownership of ancient temples (and surrounding land) on the border have not made any progress. Thailand has accused Cambodia of sending spies across the border to observe Thai military operations near the disputed area. Some arrests have been made, but Cambodia denies the charges.

On the Burmese border, Thailand is seeing more refugees from the recent resumption of fighting in eastern Burma (where tribes are protesting Chinese hydroelectric projects). The growing poverty in Burma has led to an increase in people smuggling. The smugglers charge a lot of money, and those Burmese smuggled out become slaves for years until the smuggling fee is paid off.

June 24, 2011: In the south, two people were killed by a roadside bomb apparently planted by Islamic terrorists. In another attack, a Moslem village leader was murdered by Islamic terrorists.  

June 20, 2011: In the south, three people were killed by Islamic terrorists.

June 17, 2011:  In the south, four soldiers were killed while on patrol.

June 8, 2011: In the south, two attacks left two Buddhists dead and five policemen wounded.




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