Thailand: Disgusted Northerners Seek Independence

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March 29, 2014: The royalist and nationalist politicians and parties (yellow shirts) that lost the national elections in 2011 have failed after numerous attempts to take power, but have not given up. Their numbers in the capital have dwindled after five months on the streets trying to overthrow the government by force. What they could not win in the streets they are trying to win in the courts and with many senior government bureaucrats who favor the yellow shirt cause. The government managed to contain the disruptive demonstrations using non-violent methods (to prevent escalation and possible military intervention). The government strategy worked and because the army would not intervene (in part because most of the troops were opposed to the demonstrators) to overthrow the government the yellow shirts made the best of a bad situation and urged the few remaining demonstrators in the capital to move to a park in the center of the city where demonstrators have been camped out for months. This park will now become a “permanent” demonstration site. But it will be more of a tourist attraction than headquarters for continuing disruptive demonstrations. The yellow shirts take a more optimistic view that the occupied park will make it easier to get massive demonstrations going again in the future. But in the here and now the demonstrations are over. The demonstrations were not always peaceful. Various groups were angry enough at the yellow shirts to attack and there were 70 violent incidents since November that left 22 dead and over 700 wounded. 

The main demand of the protestors was, and still is that the elected government step down and allow an unelected council to rule long enough to impose anti-corruption measures. This was unpopular with most voters because it was seen as a coup by groups that could not get elected. As a result of all this many of the middle-class yellow shirt supporters gradually got discouraged, especially because of how the demonstrations were hurting the economy and the quality of life in Bangkok (a largely yellow shirt place.) A January attempt to bring in enough protestors to shut down the capital for up to a month, or until the elected government resigned and allowed the minority parties to appoint one to their liking, did not work. This massive and sustained protest was meant to halt the February elections the beleaguered prime minister has called. That effort failed on both counts although sympathetic (to the yellow shirts) judges eventually annulled the February election.

Many in the largely agricultural north are fed up with the yellow shirt demands and are now talking about reviving a separate kingdom that existed in northern Thailand over 700 years ago. This is very much a minority movement and most northerners want to remain part of Thailand. But it does show the degree of dissatisfaction with the disruptions the yellow shirts have caused in the last year.

The peace talks with the southern Moslem separatists began a year ago and have failed so far. Currently the government is trying to schedule another round of talks. The main problem was that the recognized separatist leaders who were negotiating had lost control of the young men who are doing most of the killing. This is the result of the smuggling gangs being largely responsible for getting the young Islamic terrorists started a decade ago. The smugglers have guns, explosives, hideouts and a widespread presence in the south. The smugglers and terrorists have some common goals, especially getting Thai security forces out of the three southern (and largely Moslem) provinces on the Malaysia border. But so far that goal has become more remote as the government order more and more police and soldiers south. Then there’s the fact that the largely Moslem gangsters would be worse off if the Thais left because the Thai border would then move north a bit and on the other side would be a population with very few Moslems and a lot of ethnic Thais with very hostile attitudes towards Moslems, especially Moslem gangsters. As more southerners figure out this unfavorable endgame the popular support for the Islamic terrorists fades. This has motivated the Islamic terrorists to come up with ways to regain some of the lost love. The best way to do this is to appeal to a desire for revenge. The Islamic terrorists are suspected of being behind some recent attacks on Moslem women and children, as that sort of thing enrages the Moslem population and provides an opportunity for the Islamic terrorists to make and publicize revenge attacks on Buddhist women and children which makes the Thais angrier. Islamic terrorists feel better when there’s a lot of hating going on.

Thailand continues having problems with the drug trade in neighboring Burma, where the northern tribes fight to resist government efforts to suppress the drug trade. The largest state in the north (Shan state) has illegal drugs as the mainstay of the economy. In 2013 there were 1,228 drug related criminal cases up there, compared to 276 in 2012. These cases involved the arrest of over 2,300 people, nearly twice as many as in 2012. The Burmese methamphetamine is a regional problem and in each of the last few years over a billion dollars in meth (usually in pill form) was seized.  In 2012 some 227 million doses of methamphetamine, worth about $1.3 billion were seized in the region. That was a seven fold increase from 2008. Methamphetamine is the most popular drug in Southeast Asia. Most (nearly half) of the seized pills are taken in China, followed by Thailand and most of it is coming from meth labs in northern Burma. It’s believed that Burmese meth labs produce about 1-2 billion doses (in pill form) of methamphetamines each year, which have a street value of over $8-16 billion. At least a quarter of that stays in the Burmese tribal territories where that kind of money has become a key component of the local economy and allows the rebels to equip, uniform and sustain private armies. The Burmese meth has become hugely popular in China and throughout East Asia. China is pressuring the Burmese government to do more about the meth production in the tribal territories and that has resulted in more police activity up there, but not enough to put a dent in the drug business.

Thailand was dragged into the ongoing mystery of missing Malaysian airliner MH370. Since the Boeing 777 aircraft disappeared on March 8th the Thai air force revealed that one of its military radars may have detected the aircraft as it turned away from its scheduled flight path and turned off electronics that constantly report the position of the aircraft. MH370 appears to be a deliberate and very professional hijacking. That is the assessment now because some of the many communications devices aboard could only be turned off from the cockpit and by someone expert in handling the aircraft systems. There was one comm device that the crew could not disable (a real-time engine monitoring system) and the pilots and hijackers may not have even known about it (because technically the device was not “working” on MH370 but actually was). This device sent a signal to satellite once an hour providing proof that the aircraft was still in the air and roughly where it was. The search for MH370 has switched to where the aircraft was when this last satellite signal was received and where the aircraft could have gone with less than an hour of fuel left. That meant either Pakistan and its neighbors or the southern Indian Ocean. The open sea areas are still being searched, and a French made Thai satellite has spotted several debris fields that may be from MH370 (or might just be garbage or debris from a cargo container knocked off a ship in bad weather). The current consensus is that MH370 ran out of fuel and crashed off Western Australia.  

Early on in the MH370 investigation if was discovered that two passengers were travelling under false passports, which were created using two that had earlier been stolen in Thailand. This turned out to be a false alarm as the two men using the false documents were seeking a new home and were not Islamic terrorists. Thailand, because of the large number of tourists, especially from the West, and the long time presence of criminal gangs that specialize in false documents of all sorts, has been one of the main sources of false passports.

March 28, 2014:  In the capital two grenades were thrown at the officers of the anti-corruption commission. This was apparently the work of pro-government zealots angry at the commission for ordering prime minister Yingluck to appear and explain why she had not done more to curb corruption. Yingluck supporters also believe the commission, which is full of royalists and others opposed to Yingluck, will try to use accusations of corruption to get her removed from office.

March 21, 2014: The Constitutional Court annulled the recent elections, in large part because of the yellow shirt effort to disrupt the elections because they knew they would lose. Government supporters are angry at this ruling and see yellow shirt judges conspiring to prevent elections. It will be several months before new elections can be organized and that leaves prime minister Yingluck with limited powers as she is a caretaker official because of the election laws. In response to this her red shirt supporters are organizing more frequent and vigorous street demonstrations to oppose the yellow shirts.

March 18, 2014: The government ended the two month long state of emergency imposed in the capital and surrounding areas to deal with the yellow shirt demonstrations and related violence.

March 15, 2014: Cambodia is accusing Thai troops of murdering 15 Cambodian villagers (on the 5th and 8th) who crossed the border illegally to cut down and steal rare Thai trees for the illegal lumber export business. The Thai Army denied the accusations and believes the killings, if they occurred, were the result of disputes by the gangs that run the illegal logging. This is more of a problem in Cambodia and Thai security forces are more likely to block these activities inside Thailand. The illegal logging is big business and very profitable. Along the border there are few good trees left on the Cambodian side but over in Thailand there are still plenty of prime trees to be chopped down and stolen.

March 14, 2014:  In the south (Narathiwat province) a Buddhist teacher was shot dead as she was on her way to school. Then the killers doused her body in gasoline and set it on fire.

March 7, 2014: International military training exercises in Thailand included Chinese troops for the first time. China was invited to watch. Since 1982 Thai and American troops have held a joint training exercise (Cobra Gold) each year. Usually the event are held in Thailand and over the years has come to include troops from other countries in the region. This year, for the first time China participated. There were only 17 Chinese troops in attendance, but it’s a big deal because China’s neighbors would rather be training with Chinese troops than confronting them. Many believe the Chinese are just there to take notes on how more experienced and better regarded troops do what they do.

March 3, 2014: In the south (Narathiwat province) police arrested two local defense volunteers who admitted they were responsible for shooting at a Moslem family on February 3rd. The two man fired on the family out of a desire for revenge. One of the militiamen believed the father of the Moslem family was responsible for killing two kin (a brother and pregnant sister-in-law) in 2013. The family was fired on while returning from the local mosque. The three children were killed but the parents survived. This incident was not unique because the armed defense volunteers are recruited from Moslem and Buddhist families that have lost someone to the terrorist violence. This ensures that the volunteers, although part-time, are dedicated. But sometimes, like the February 3rd incident, the desire for revenge results in another atrocity. There are a lot of people down south seeking revenge. 

 

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