Thailand: Trust Us For We Are The Government

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October 9, 2014: Since they took over in May the generals have proclaimed a willingness to resume peace negotiations with the Moslem rebels in the south. So far none of the rebel groups have responded and reason appears to be unresolved disputes among the various separatist and Islamic terrorist groups responsible for the continuing violence down there. The key stumbling block in negotiations so far has been autonomy. All the rebels are also upset that the government has not responded to calls for amnesty and some specific government proposals on what forms of autonomy would be acceptable.

Another problem is lack of unity among the rebels. There are religious fanatics, Malay nationalists and criminal gangs and each of these three groups have goals which conflict with the other groups. The Islamic radicals want a religious dictatorship while the Malay nationalists do not and the gangs want to be free to indulge their lawless lifestyle. All these groups can agree on is the need to get free of the ethnic Thai majority first. But there is also another force to be reckoned with; the Moslem population in general. They want peace and prosperity. Most want more education for their kids and more economic opportunities. All three of the rebel groups promised positive change and none have delivered. The violence has made things worse for the civilians in the south and they are increasingly hostile to the rebels who claim to be fighting for them. The rebels are increasingly seen as fighting for minority interests and at the expense of the majority. The government, both pre and post-coup, has been trying to exploit these divisions. It is understood that the unrest will not be completely eliminated as the presence of smuggling gangs down there has always been a source violence and persistent illegal activities. But shutting down the last few terrorist cells that are responsible for the continued attacks would do much to restore what passes for peace in the south. This may or may not include a formal agreement with the separatist organizations. Many rebels now believe that the generals are determined to suppress the violence with force rather than any sort of negotiations and compromise.

There is also the fact that the unrest in the south has been going on sporadically ever since Thailand gained control of the area centuries ago. For most of that time, the Malays down there were independent or allied with (and paid tribute to) Thailand. But in 1909 Britain, which had conquered most of the Malay territory to the south, signed a treaty with Thailand that left the Thais owning what became the current three southern Moslem provinces. At the time, the Malays there considered this preferable to being ruled by the British. During World War II (1939-45) the Japanese took control of Malaysia and a local rebel movement sought to create an independent Malay state, incorporating the three Thai Moslem provinces as well. This did not happen, and the British regained control of Malay in 1945 and granted the area independence (as Malaysia) in 1957. Unrest continued in the three Malay provinces in Thailand, but was usually low key and considered a police matter. What made the current violence so severe was the addition of Islamic radicalism (instead of just Malay nationalism). The basic problem is that the Buddhist ethnic Thais often have a hard time getting along with the Moslem ethnic Malays (and vice versa). But until the Islamic radicals came along, urging the use of terrorism, the independence movement was not all that violent and the south was pretty quiet.  That changed on January 4th 2004 when Islamic terrorists raided a military warehouse to steal ammo and some weapons. This set off a widespread (in the south) campaign of Islamic terrorism. Since then there have been more than 6,100 killed down there along with over 10,000 wounded. There have been over 11,000 violent incidents, most of them involving property damage or non-fatal assaults. In the last ten years Islamic terrorists in the south have killed 171 teachers and burned or blown up over 300 schools. The Islamic terrorists oppose secular education and especially non-Moslem teachers. Low educations levels in the Moslem south means most of the teachers are Buddhists recruited from the wealthier and better educated north.  The "terrorists" are a combination of Islamic radicals (most of the two million people in the three southern provinces are Moslem), Malay nationalists (nearly all the Moslems are ethnic Malay, not Thai, which 97 percent of Thailand's population is) and gangsters (smuggling has long been a big business down there). The ethnic Thai majority refused (as they usually do) to back down in the face of Malay Moslem violence. But after years of futile violence the Moslem minority is increasingly hostile to the Islamic terrorists, and more frequently cooperating with the police. This happened gradually as it became obvious over the last decade that the Thai government was never going to give in. As a result of this, the militants turned on the Moslem civilians, which was a downward spiral that is gradually destroying the remaining popular support they have. The national government has also sent more economic aid to the south and improved the educational system. The army claims that in the last decade  the number of Islamic militants in the south has been reduced more than half, to a few thousand with only a few of them regularly carrying out fatal attacks. The overall violence has also declined but all this is mainly because more and more southerners are fed up with years of violence.

Meanwhile the resistance to the military coup is diminishing. Most Thais appear willing to wait a year for the promised elections. Then there are the reforms the generals promised. That process is underway and many Thais are, if nothing else, curious about what might develop here.

October 7, 2014: In the south two bombs went off in a tourism area wounding nine people. One bomb went off in a store and the other outside a police station.

Despite pressure from the tourism industry (which is about ten percent of GDP) the government refused to lift the martial law that was imposed in May just before the latest military coup. Because of all the hassles and bad publicity associated with martial law tourist activity is declining (by about twenty percent) and that is causing unemployment and more hostility towards the military coup. The government says martial law won’t be lifted until planned reforms are decided on and implemented. That could take up to a year. The recently established reform council has 250 members and is supposed to complete its work in time for planned elections in October 2015 elections.

September 29, 2014: The air force has ordered a Piaggio P.180 Avanti II business jet outfitted for photo reconnaissance. This aircraft will take highly detailed digital photos of large areas, which can then be scrutinized by analysts and special software to look for specific items (like rebel or Islamic terrorist camps in remote areas).

September 28, 2014: In the south police confronted three armed men early in the morning. A gun battle broke out and one of the gunmen was killed and the other two arrested. The dead man had eight arrest warrants outstanding and all three were suspects in terrorist activity.  

September 16, 2014: Over the last two days two bombs were found and disabled at a town on the Burmese border. No one took credit for the small bombs but Burmese tribal rebels were believed responsible. The Karen tribal rebels have been complaining of Karen refugees and border crossers being mistreated by Thai security forces on the border.

September 11, 2014: In the south a group of armed men entered a government office building opened fire and then left before police arrived. Three government employees and a civilian were killed and at least ten people were wounded. As the attackers left they detonated two bombs in front of the building destroying much of the façade.

 

 

 

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