Thailand: Swept Away

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November 28, 2011: The massive floods that have ravaged the country have been good, and bad, for the army. Thousands of military trucks and boats, and more than 50,000 soldiers are seen all over the country, especially the capital, helping out. The army has become very unpopular in the last decade, mainly because of the military backed overthrow of an elected government five years ago. The flood relief effort has changed all that, and the army has followed up with "public service" ads on radio and TV describing what the army is doing for flooded communities. The relief/PR effort is working, as polls show a more favorable attitude towards the military. This may help the military to avoid sharp cuts to its budget in the next few years. There has been great pressure to cut the military budget, which has doubled since the military coup five years ago. When the generals stepped aside earlier this year, and let an elected government take control, it was expected that the military budget would be at risk. But the floods have caused over $30 billion in damage, and nearly as much will be spent by the government to repair it all. The GDP is about $320 billion, nearly triple what it was a decade ago, and a lot of Thais are going slide back to those earlier, less affluent days. There will not be much support for maintaining the military budget at over $5 billion a year. Thais are particularly unhappy because GDP growth had been increasing this year, after stagnating during the years of military government. Now it appears that GDP will shrink up to four percent next year because of the floods. The enormous amount of economic damage from these floods is largely because much of the economic growth in the last few decades has been via factories and businesses built on low ground. Floods of this magnitude don't occur often (once or twice a century), and the government did not restrict construction on vulnerable land.  

Despite the efforts of the security forces, civilians in the three southern (Moslem) provinces continue to flee the Islamic terrorism. A decade ago, the population consisted of 1.9 million Moslems and 400,000 Buddhists. Since then, 120,000 Buddhists and 190,000 Moslems have fled their homes because of the violence. While most of the Moslems went to other parts of the three provinces, most of the Buddhists fled the south. Most of the refugees were Moslem because the Islamic terrorists have attacked the Moslems who did not agree with the violence and opposed the terrorists. The Islamic terrorists are intent on driving all non-Moslems out of the three provinces and establishing a Moslem state.

November 26, 2011:  China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand have agreed to operate joint police patrols on the Mekong River (which flows through all four countries). There has been an increase in attacks on Mekong river shipping, sometimes involving corrupt soldiers or police. So the security personnel from all four countries will keep an eye on each other. A major problem these days is drug smuggling out of Burma. The drugs are valuable, illegal and very portable.

November 25, 2011:  Another boatload of 92 Rohingya refugees from Burma was captured off southern Thailand. Over the last few years, Thailand has been more receptive of these Burmese Moslem refugees. In the past, many of their boats were towed out to sea and abandoned, leaving over a thousand refugees dead. The Moslem Rohingya are fleeing because of mistreatment by the Burmese government. For one thing, the Burmese do not recognize the Rohingya as Burmese. In part this was because the Rohingya lived on Burmese/Bangladesh border and were considered invaders from Bangladesh, and partly because the Burmese are largely Buddhist, and have had problems with Moslems (who tend to be a lot more intolerant and aggressive when it comes to religion). Moreover, while most Burmese have an East Asian appearance, the Rohingya look like Indians. Criminal gangs in the area are selling places on boats that attempt to sneak into Thai waters, where the Rohingya can claim asylum. The Thai coast guard and navy are determined to not be played by the smugglers, and are under pressure to prevent another flood of refugees.

For the last three decades, several hundred thousand Rohingya (out of a total population of about a million) have been fleeing into Bangladesh, but Bangladesh wouldn't take them, and forced many of them back into Burma. In the last decade, many more Rohingya have been trying to get into Thailand, and then overland to Moslem Malaysia or Indonesia. Several thousand a year try to flee. Given the years of Moslem terrorism in Thailand's south, the army does not want thousands of Burmese Moslems wandering the length of the country trying to reach Malaysia. Just sending them to Malaysia would not work, since neither Malaysia nor Indonesia (nor any Moslem country, for that matter) was willing to take the Rohingya. There are over 150,000 refugees from Myanmar (Burma) in Thailand, nearly all of them from tribes that have been fighting the Burmese government for centuries. In addition, there are almost a million internal refugees in Burma, the result of fighting between the army and various rebellious tribes. There are about a quarter million Rohingya refugees. Some 28,000 are in camps in Bangladesh, another 200,000 live outside the camps in Bangladesh and the rest are in Thailand, where they are considered economic migrants, and thus illegal.

November 19, 2011: In the south, nine people were wounded by a roadside bomb. The main target was apparently a group of Buddhist monks, and three of them were among the wounded.

November 17, 2011:  In the south, five teachers were wounded when attacked by Islamic terrorists. Despite attacks like this, the army has devoted a large portion of its troops in the area to protecting teachers. As a result, no schools have been closed this year because of the Islamic terror attacks on schools and teachers (who are seen as un-Islamic because the schools are not religious and the teachers tend to be Buddhists.)

 

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