In the south peace negotiations are stalled mainly because of factional disagreements within the separatist groups. Some factions want to settle for the autonomy the government offers while others want more autonomy or, with a few factions, a separate Moslem state. The government is trying to get some of the separatist groups these exiles are leaders of to resume peace talks in early June. To help that along the government is offering safe passage for some exiled separatists to come and visit their families for a month.
The separatist violence has been going on since 2004 and left over 6,500 dead. Police are unsure of the exact number of dead because the abundant criminal gangs down there kill for many reasons and it is often difficult to determine why someone was killed. Nevertheless a decade of heavy police and military efforts have reduced the death rate. In the last year the police have introduced the use of DNA analysis and have collected DNA samples from over 40,000 people in the south. This has led to more arrests of terrorism suspects. Many of those arrested this way were later found to be responsible for numerous attacks. As is often the case only a few men are responsible for most of the violence and DNA analysis helped take many of those killers out of action with a subsequent decline in deaths. The DNA analysis also brought in suspects who were not separatists or Islamic terrorists but contract killers hired by gangs, politicians or businessmen to eliminate a rival or “send a message.”
The government crackdown this year on gangsters trying to smuggle Burmese Moslems through Thailand to Malaysia has forced the smugglers to use ships and thus bypass Thailand. The government has long refused to get involved with halting the illegal migration of Rohingya Moslems from Burma and Bangladesh via Thailand. This has brought international pressure on Thailand to help stop the smuggling. Thousands of Rohingya have gone missing after getting on boats to be taken south. People smugglers initially used boats and trucks to move these people south, often overland through Thailand or via Thai coastal waters. When the coast guard, navy or police detect these smugglers they are forced to leave Thai waters if in boats. If caught on land smugglers and the illegal migrants are all arrested. These migrants pay smugglers to take them to Malaysia, Thailand, India or more distant points (like Indonesia). This smuggling has become big business. It is believed that that up to 10,000 people a month are leaving with 75 percent coming from Burma. But thousands appear to have just disappeared. Security forces in Burma and Thailand have been accused of working with the smugglers, usually in the form of taking bribes to allow the smuggler boats and trucks to pass without interference. Security forces have been accused of sinking some boats because the smugglers refuse to leave. Others point out that smugglers tend to use poorly maintained boats, which are often overloaded and this leads to boats sinking, especially in bad weather or being stranded when engines fail. Over 200,000 Rohingya are believed to have fled Burma by sea since the anti-Moslem violence began there in 2012. At least 25,000 are believed to have gone south in the first three months of 2015. Thailand denies all the accusations and refuses to allow foreign investigators into the country. Rohingya who survived the trip report that some smuggler gangs will use the camps to try and extort more cash from the families of some refugees and will torture or kill some refugees while doing this. Some of the bodies found in these camps showed signs of torture and other abuse. Most of the deaths were from disease or exhaustion. Because of international pressure the Thai government has cracked down on corrupt security personnel taking bribes from or otherwise cooperating with the smugglers and the smugglers now avoid Thailand. But the gangs continue making a lot of money moving these illegal migrants and continue operating.
May 26, 2015: In the south (Pattani) gunmen ambushed and killed a village chief and a schoolteacher. Islamic terrorists were suspected.
May 25, 2015: The government ordered the navy to send its only aircraft carrier to sea to help deal with illegal migrants found adrift off the coast. The carrier, built in the 1990s, was never much use militarily and is expensive to operate. The navy has found the carrier most useful for disaster relief operations. The carrier has had its Harrier vertical takeoff jets removed and is now basically a helicopter carrier. Since May 1st Thailand has made it virtually impossible for smugglers to transport illegal migrants overland through Thailand (to Malaysia). The smugglers have responded by buying decrepit old ships and using them to get the illegal migrants to Malaysia or Indonesia.
May 22, 2015: Police arrested several dozen people who were holding protests to commemorate the anniversary of the military coup last year. These coups are an unfortunate “tradition” in Thailand and they never last long because of the risk of civil war. The military government now says elections would be held in April 2016, and thus end the military rule. Meanwhile the generals are planning ahead and trying to pass laws that will make the next elected government less troublesome for the military and the other groups (royalists, urban elites) that supported the recent coup. The majority of Thais still back the populists so the struggle continues and will heat up once the elections are held. Most Thais are also unhappy with the stalled economy, which they attribute to military opposition to the last two elected governments and their inability to shut down the Islamic terrorist violence in the far south.
May 19, 2015: In a peace gesture to southern separatists the government has offered to allow many separatists in exile to return home during Ramadan (the annual Moslem holy month), which begins on June 17th this year. The separatists would be given a written guarantee of safe passage for their visit. Some of these separatists live in Malaysia while others settled in Europe.
May 18, 2015: In the south (Songkhla province) a roadside bomb wounded two local defense volunteers.
May 16, 2015: In the south (Yala) 36 small bombs went off in the provincial capital since the 14th (when 24 bombs went off over two hours). All these explosions wounded 22 people. The government believes local politics (separatist groups feuding with each other) more than attacks against the Thai government was responsible.
May 15, 2015: In the south (Narathiwat) Islamic terrorists clashed with soldiers leaving one soldier dead and three wounded.
May 9, 2015: In the south (Nakhon Si Thammarat province, north of Songkhla province) a man died when one of the 17 pipe bombs he was carrying exploded. It was unclear why he had all those bombs but friends and neighbors reported the man had been acting strangely after suffering a head injury.
May 8, 2015: In the south (Songkhla province, just north of the three Moslem provinces and also bordering Malaysia) police found and arrested 117 illegal migrants mostly from Bangladesh but 26 were Rohingya Moslems from Burma. When questioned they said smugglers dropped them off on the Thai coast further north and for two weeks they walked south to avoid police.
May 2, 2015: In the south (Pattani) police cornered three Islamic terrorists and after a 12 hour siege killed one and captured the other two.
May 1, 2015: In the south (Songkhla province) police, acting on a tip from local villagers, found an abandoned transit camp used by people smugglers to get illegal Moslem migrants from Burma or Bangladesh to Malaysia. There were at least 30 bodies, most of them buried, at the camp. One live migrant was found. Police kept searching the mountainous area and found six other camps, but only a few more bodies. Similar camps were later found across the border in Malaysia and these contained hundreds of dead bodies. Thai police basically shut down several smuggling gangs in the last few months by acting on information obtained from captured migrants. For example it was found that the smugglers were using four uninhabited islands off the coast for temporary camps and these were shut down as well and the islands regularly patrolled after that.
Elsewhere in Songkhla police found and disabled a bomb planted near where the provincial governor was to give a speech.