Thailand: Bad For Business

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March 5, 2016: The military government is increasingly hostile to any form of criticism. That can be seen by the growing number (nearly a hundred so far) of known (via speeches, Internet posts or published remarks) critics who have been arrested and held, often without being charged. The generals are increasingly criticized for these police state tactics but the most common criticism is about the refusal to name a date when elections and democracy will resume. Best estimate now is late 2017, maybe. There is growing foreign pressure from neighbors (except China) and the West. Worse since September 2015 the pro-democracy populists (the “red shirts”) have largely ceased demonstrations. The populists did so to demonstrate that there was no “violent opposition” to justify continued military rule. The red shirts are waiting for the military government to allow elections which is what Thai military governments all eventually do. The May 2014 coup came after months of political protests in the capital and those tensions remain but the army is definitely in control. Despite that the economy is not doing as well as people expect and the military government is blamed. In the past this sort of thing played a large role in persuading the generals to allow elections again and that seems to be happening again.

The Smugglers Are Suffering

There is growing evidence that some people smuggling continues via land routes into Malaysia. Although the security forces now monitor known smuggling routes (trails or dirt roads crossing the border in forested but thinly populated areas) there are so many of these routes that there are always some that smugglers can still get small groups of people across on. Despite this, there is now a lot less people smuggling and in large part because the numerous Thai smuggling gangs got the message in 2015; anything but people is tolerable and the pressure will ease off once the people smuggling stops. The gangs apparently decided to do what was best for business.

All this began in early 2015 when the security forces carried out a major crackdown on gangsters smuggling Burmese Moslems (and others) through Thailand to Malaysia. In the course 2015 some 2,300 illegal migrants were arrested (and many more turned back) in Thailand along with over a hundred of the smugglers. This forced the smugglers to seek another route. By early 2016 it appeared that the people smugglers had largely shut down the people smuggling operation because far fewer people were disappearing from refugee camps in Burma.

What triggered all this crackdown was the deaths, and bad publicity associated with the illegal migration of Rohingya Moslems from Burma and Bangladesh via Thailand. As of early 2015 thousands of Rohingya had gone missing after getting on boats to be taken south. People smugglers used boats and trucks to move these people south, often overland through Thailand or via Thai coastal waters. The Thai crackdown halted a very lucrative criminal enterprise for smugglers large fees to take people to Malaysia, Thailand, India or more distant points (like Indonesia). This had become big business and by late 2014 it was believed that up to 10,000 people a month were leaving with 75 percent coming from Burma. Security forces in Burma and Thailand were accused of working with the smugglers, usually in the form of taking bribes to allow the smuggler boats and trucks to pass without interference. Security forces were accused of sinking some boats because the smugglers refused to leave or pay. Others pointed out that smugglers tend to use poorly maintained boats, which are often overloaded and this leads to boats sinking, especially in bad weather or being stranded when engines fail.

A growing number of Rohingya who survived the trip reported that some smuggler gangs would use Thai transit camps to try and extort more cash from the families of some refugees and would torture or kill some refugees while doing this. Some of the bodies found in these camps showed signs of torture and other abuse. Most of the deaths were from disease or exhaustion. Because of international pressure the Thai government also cracked down on corrupt security personnel taking bribes from or otherwise cooperating with the smugglers. Over 200,000 Rohingya are believed to have fled Burma by sea since the anti-Moslem violence began there in 2012. At least 25,000 are believed to have gone south in the first three months of 2015 and that level of activity continued until May when the Thai crackdown took effect. Suddenly a lot fewer (soon over 80 percent fewer) Rohingya refugees were showing up at in Malaysia or Indonesia. All the countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal were now watching for boats engaged in people smuggling and that pretty much ruled out using large vessels anymore. At that point smugglers could only move a few people at a time on smaller vessels that could avoid or pass inspection. The drove the price of using people smugglers way up, to the point where most Rohingya could not afford it.

Peace Talks Sputter Forward

In the south the terms for the resumption of formal peace negotiations are still being worked out in Malaysia with Malaysian government help. A major point of contention is which southern political groups will be recognized as negotiators. Meanwhile the government monitors the mood down south and reports that the Moslem majority there is generally repelled by the actions of major Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Very few, if any, Thai Moslems have joined ISIL although a few Malaysians Moslems have. Meanwhile the violence down south continues to decline. Islamic terrorist bombings were down 49 percent in 2015 compared to 2014. The 2015 bombing activity was 65 percent less than 2007, the peak year for violence in the Moslem south. The violence has been going on since 2004 and most Moslems in the south are fed up but there are still a few hard core violent separatists who keep at it. This is believed partly responsible for the recent increase in separatist violence down south.

March 4, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) Islamic terrorists used a roadside bomb to attack local defense volunteers escorting teachers to school. Two of the eight volunteers were wounded and the others opened fire on the Islamic terrorists who set off the bomb but did not hit any of them.

March 3, 2016: In the south (Yala province) Islamic terrorists killed a Buddhist civilian and in a separate incident killed an off-duty Moslem soldier.

March 2, 2016: In the south (Yala province) Islamic terrorists, in three separate incidents, killed two Moslem civilians and badly wounded a soldier.

February 27, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) Islamic terrorists stole a car, placed a bomb inside and then parked it near a police station. The bomb had a timer and when it went off wounding six policemen and a civilian.

February 17, 2016: Task Force (TF) 152 of the Chinese Navy reached Thailand and spent five days visiting and showing off the destroyer, frigate and replenishment ship that comprise task force. The sailors and 64 commandos assigned to the task force also got some shore leave. TF 152 has been on a world tour for nearly a year. First it spent four months with the international anti-piracy patrol off Somalia then proceeded around the world making stops in Africa, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and the Americas (including the United States). TF 152 visited Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Cambodia before returning to China.

February 14, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) armed men stopped a truck and killed one of the three men in the vehicle because he could not speak Malay (that is, he was not a southern Moslem). The other two men were left unharmed.

February 12, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) there were eight Islamic terrorist attacks; four small bombs went off in various places, a garage and a school were set on fire, a pro-government Moslem shot dead and a police checkpoint fired on. The only casualty was the murdered Moslem man. At the same time in nearby Yala province a remote controlled bomb killed two soldiers and wounded five others. This unusual amount of Islamic terrorist violence comes after a year of relative peace in the south. This was partly the result of Islamic terrorist leaders ordering their followers to only carry out attacks in response to any government actions that warrant it. In that case the retaliation should be as widespread as possible but also avoid harming any civilians. It is unclear what government action, if any, prompted this surge in violence.

February 10, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) troops, acting on a tip found and raided an Islamic terrorist camp. They encountered five armed men who briefly fired at them and then fled. Troops seized bomb making materials and documents that led to the arrest of a local man.

February 6, 2016: In the south (Yala province) a village leader accused of cooperating with Islamic terrorists was found shot dead. Locals believed he was murdered by a pro-government gunman.

 

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