February 11, 2009:
Thailand is getting criticized in the international media for harsh treatment of refugees. The Thais don't care, as they have always discouraged refugees from crossing the border, and this has made the refugee problem much more manageable. Too many refugees and it gets very expensive, and the camps become bases for armed rebels. That can lead to border wars, as has been the case with Burma (Myanmar) in the past. Thais have found that they can simply ignore the media criticism, which eventually dies down. The Thais have always been hard headed like this, and consider it a positive trait. Thailand is the only country in the region, besides mighty China, that was not colonized by the Europeans in the 19th century. That's a big deal, and the Thais did it by being tough and innovative. One of the recent innovations is democracy that is actually a constitutional monarchy (a democracy where the king still has powers, like a veto and a say in the appointment of senior officials). The Thai democrats thought they had curbed the powers of the king over the past few decades, but as the recent mob rule tactics in the capital revealed, the royalists (if not the revered king himself) still have powers, and they recently exercised them to bring down an elected government.
The democrats, who represent a majority of the voters, have brought tens of thousands of red-shirt wearing demonstrators into the capital. The democrats are at a disadvantage here, as the royalists are based in the urban areas, making it easier for their yellow-shirt wearing mobs to assemble. The democrats have to trek in from the countryside, and are, in effect, in enemy territory. But that has resonance as well, for the majority still feel the centuries of domination and misrule by the urban overlords. Those with a lot of money, education and royal connections, are still a minority, but they are not yet comfortable with allowing the majority to rule. In typically Thai fashion, the conflict is not fought out directly, but as more of a shoving or shouting match. No one wants a full out war, that would leave many dead, and the economy in ruins. But both sides want to win.
In the south, security forces continue to seek out the remaining Islamic terrorist cells. There are believed to be a dozen or more of these small (a dozen or so members) groups still operating. Some of them are criminal gangs, that do a little Islamic terrorism on the side. Smuggling is the big moneymaker in the south, but that has become more difficult since Islamic radicalism became more popular after September 11, 2001. Now there are more police on the Malaysian border and off the coasts. More cops and soldiers in the villages as well. The military intelligence troops know a lot more about who is who down south, and use brutal, but effective, methods to get information (not just physical torture, by psychological duress as well, by seizing and threatening family members of suspects.) These are all traditional methods, thousands of years old, and the Thais see no reason to drop them just because other nations now condemn these medieval practices. The Thais also know that they have long handled unhappy, and critical, foreigners by smiling and laughing a lot. Yeah, sounds crazy, but it works. Or it has worked, More people are on to Thai methods now (a side effect of all that mass media), and some Thais fear that the game may be up. But so far, the Thai way is winning. The Islamic terrorism in the south is subsiding, even though some of the terrorists have tried to disguise themselves as legitimate businessmen, human rights activists or clergy. When the Thai police catch your sent, they will find you out. And ignore any bad reviews their methods may get at home or abroad. In Thailand, "going medieval" on someone is seen as smart, not archaic.
January 31, 2009: In the northeast, a dispute between two local groups led to a grenade going off at a social gathering honoring the opening of a new Buddhist temple. Seven died and over a hundred were injured. These disputes are common in the rural area, and illegal weapons, like hand grenades, are available on the black market. Tossing a grenade into a gathering of your enemies is seen as a way to make a point, and intimidate your foes into inaction.