Thailand: Anger Fatigue

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May 3, 2009: In the south, there was a spike of Islamic violence in the last ten days of April, leaving 40 people dead or wounded. Most of the attacks were on security forces, or Moslems that have expressed support for the government. The increased activity by the 60,000 soldiers and police over the last three years, and greater economic investment by the government in the south, have cut the number of violent incidents from 200 a month three years ago, to about 100 a month. The pattern of violence has also changed, with less emphasis on attacking the Buddhists, and more on violence against Moslems. The Islamic terrorists have lost a lot of their support, mainly because the campaign of violence has no clear leader, or goal. While the Islamic terrorists indicate they want to set up the  three Moslem provinces, and their two million people, as a separate state, they also indicate that this would be a religious dictatorship. Many Moslems resent the rule of the Buddhist majority, but are not eager to be run by Islamic radical clerics. The reality of that, as played out in Iran and Taliban Afghanistan, has had an impact. For a long time, most Moslems idealized those Islamic dictatorships. But over time, the harsher reality came to be accepted.

The southern Moslems are basically tired of the violence. In five years, there have been 9,000 casualties (nearly 40 percent fatalities) and over 5,000 violent incidents. The south has always been a more violent place, because of the smuggling gangs and family feuds that often turn nasty. But the Islamic terrorists have moved the violence beyond the level most locals are willing to tolerate.

Two weeks after Yellow shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul survived an assassination attempt, he got out of the hospital and accused soldiers of being responsible for the attack. Shell casings, from ammo used by the military, were found at the scene of the attack. The army said that the ammo could have been stolen, but Limthongkul says it was "special warfare" soldiers who did the shooting. Since the army supports the royalists (yellow shirts), this shows how divided the military is. While most of the army leadership are royalists, many of the troops are from populist families.

Most Thais are fed up with all the political violence, mainly because of the economic impact. The global economic recession hit about the same time as all the political unrest, and many Thais tend to blame all the decline in economic activity on the political protests. The global recession is more of an abstraction, while the protests are right in your face. Tourism, another very visible component of the economy, is down 25 percent compared to last year. The economy is expected to contract five percent this year, after a decade of expanding about five percent a year.

The red shirts (populists) and yellow shirts (royalists) are still organizing street protests against each other. But both groups have noticeably less popular support.

 

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