Thailand: Hezbollah Tries Again

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April 21, 2014:  Months of political protests in the capital continue. 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 six 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. Another attempt (in early April) to shut down the city failed and now more red shirt (pro-government) demonstrators are showing up. The demonstrations are not always peaceful. Various groups were angry enough at the yellow shirts to attack and there were 70 violent incidents since November that left 23 dead and over 700 wounded. With more red shirts in the capital, there is the potential for a lot more violence.  

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. At the moment yellow shirt hopes are kept alive by several court cases.

The continued political violence in the capital is expected to result in negative economic growth for the first quarter of 2014. Economists are still calculating the exact percentage drop but say that if the unrest does not halt the economic damage will get worse.

In the south, one or more Islamic terrorist factions are feared to have started concentrating on Buddhist women living down there. In the last two months five of these women have been killed in terrorist attacks that seemed to target Buddhist females. Meanwhile the decade old attacks on non-religious schools continues. In the last decade over 300 schools have been attacked with bombs or arson. So far 171 teachers (most of them Buddhists) have been killed. The anti-education violence has cost the separatists a lot of local support as most Moslems want their kids educated and better able to get jobs.

The peace negotiations with the Moslem separatists remain stalled, in part because of the political turmoil in the capital and in part because of disagreements among the many separatist factions. The more radical separatists are asking for more than the government is willing to give up and the separatists seem unable to present a united front.

April 20, 2014: In the south gunmen shot dead two Moslem adults and a two year old child. The adults were working with the government.

April 17, 2014: In the south a known separatist and his six year old son were shot dead in a remote location. The dead man was also involved in drug smuggling and the killing was believed related to disputes he was having with other separatists.

April 15, 2014: Acting on a tip from Israeli intelligence police arrested two Lebanese Moslem men (one had a French passport the other a Filipino one) who had flown in as tourists and were there to kill Israeli tourists. Israel provided details of where the attack was to take place and attributed it to Lebanese Islamic terrorist group Hezbollah. The two suspects will be deported because they had not done anything illegal yet in Thailand. It’s unclear where the two will be deported to. Meanwhile there are indications that police are still searching for a third man who was part of this plot. Thailand has had problems with Hezbollah before. In 2013 a Thai court sentenced a Lebanese man (Atris Hussein) to 32 months in prison for illegal possession of explosives. This all began in late 2011 when Israeli and American intelligence warned their Thai counterparts that Islamic terrorists were in Thailand planning a bombing there in early 2012. Subsequently Thai police arrested a Lebanese man, associated with Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, who was traveling on a Swedish passport. The man had moved to Sweden in 1991, but returned to Lebanon in 2003 for three years. A second man was identified, but he had already left the country. Police then found four tons of explosives owned by the Hezbollah man they had in custody. Atris Hussein admitted that an attack was planned in Thailand, but was aborted when the Thai government began hunting for the two Hezbollah men. He later said he was being framed by Israeli agents.

April 11, 2014: In the north (Chiang Rai province) police intercepted ten drug smugglers from Burma and ordered them to stop. The ten tribesmen refused and a gun battle broke out. The shooting went on for hours and seven drug smugglers died. Police recovered several hundred thousand methamphetamine pills. 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. 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 neighboring countries.  From 2008 to 2012 seizures grew seven fold (to 227 million doses of methamphetamine, worth about $1.3 billion). Methamphetamine is the most popular drug in Southeast Asia and there are believed to be at least 600,000 meth addicts in Thailand, plus many tourists who indulge.  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. The Burmese meth has become hugely popular in China, which is pressuring the Burmese government to do more about the problem and that has resulted in more police activity up there, but not enough to put a dent in the drug business.

April 6, 2014: In the south four bombs went off in the capital of Yala province leaving one dead and 28 wounded. Moslem separatists are believed responsible.

April 2, 2014: In the south Islamic terrorists killed three village leaders and beheaded one of them. A note left with the bodies warned villagers not to cooperate with the government.

In the capital a World War II aircraft bomb exploded in a scrap shop as someone tried to dismantle it. The explosion killed seven and wounded 19. The bomb had earlier been found by construction workers were working on the foundation for a new building. Rather than call the bomb squad, the workers sold the bomb to a scrap dealer. Usually construction workers know to call the bomb squad, and a few days ago another World War II bomb was safely disposed of when it was turned over to the police. But there is always the temptation to make a few bucks and sell to a scrap dealer. 

 

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