Thailand: Extortion

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September 7, 2016: With peace talks with southern Malay separatists deadlocked the government is going ahead with economic investment and improving education and security in general. The economy continues to grow, but slowly. That and the recent failure by the opposition to block a new constitution indicates that most Thais want to focus on basic survival and deal with the illegal military rule and corrupt politicians later. Based on past history here, there will be a “later.”

The military effort to coerce enough Thai voters into approving the August 7 referendum on a new constitution succeeded and most Thais appear to have accepted (if not agreed) with that. While the military government believes this is a victory it only guarantees another decade of political unrest. There is enough evidence of voter manipulation, especially since the vote tally was 61 percent in favor of the pro-military constitution while opinion polls just before the vote indicated 48 percent approval. Many opponents of the military government refused to vote which was a factor in only 59 percent eligible voters participating.

The new constitution reverses decades of progress in replacing medieval privilege with democratic methods. The military will continue trying to coerce opponents to keep quiet. Even before the referendum vote royalist and nationalist politicians who backed the 2011 coup were openly calling on the generals to back off. The pro-military parties (“yellow shirts”) that lost the national elections in 2011 used their continued control of the courts and the military to outlaw the elected government (“red shirts”) after which the army stepped in to “keep the peace”. This was not a unique event in Thai history but most Thais are fed up with the coups. There have been twelve of them in the last 80 years, since a constitutional monarchy replaced the centuries old absolute monarchy. The coups slow down the spread of democracy but does not stop it. It’s a nasty cycle that will apparently continue.

More Mystery Bombs

Police are still trying to find out who was responsible for the eleven small bombs were set off in the south on August 11th and 12th. Some southern politicians are believed involved, perhaps in collusion with one of the more extreme Islamic terror groups down there. This suspicion arose because these attacks did not take place in the three southernmost provinces (the Moslem majority ones) but in the provinces with a lot of tourist attractions. Normally Moslem terrorists leave the tourist areas alone. Four people died and 34 were wounded, including ten European tourists because these new attacks. Police suspect this was the work of criminal gangs showing their displeasure at government interference. Local politicians are often partners with major criminal gangs and some of these gangs have connections with Islamic terrorists. Tourism is a favorite target for gangsters because most targets are not well guarded and vulnerable to extortion (in return for protection from attacks.) Tourism currently accounts for about 13 percent of GDP and is very sensitive to safety issues no matter what the source. Thus an August 2015 bombing in the capital led to a temporary 17 percent drop tourism. This came after the number of tourists visiting Thailand had doubled between 2010 and 2015. The target was a Hindu shrine (and popular tourist attraction) in Bangkok. At first it was believed to be the work of criminal gangs angry at a crackdown on their profitable people smuggling operations. Islamic terrorists did not claim credit for this one and no gang connection could be found. This attack does not appear to be the work of any of the usual suspects. The government admitted that those behind the bombing appeared intent on making the government look bad as well as hurting the economy (by scaring tourists away). That worked because the temple attack was the worst in Thai history leaving twenty people dead, eight of them foreign tourists. Over a hundred people were wounded. The August 2016 attacks did less damage and were not in such a high-visibility location. There appears to be less negative impact on tourism because of that. But if the attacks on tourism continue, the negative impact will grow and be cumulative.

September 5, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) a motorcycle bomb went off outside a school killing three civilians as children were arriving.

September 3, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) a bomb on the tracks went off outside a railroad station killing a railroad worker and wounding three others. In the wake of this attack railroad service in the three southern provinces was halted until the rail system security could be assured. On July 3rd a large (100 kg/220 pounds) went off on railroad tracks cutting service (not restored until the 13th) with Malaysia on one of the busiest days of the year (the end of the Moslem holy month of Ramadan).

September 2, 2016: Peace talks with southern Moslem separatists were resumed but no progress was made. Meanwhile on the Malaysian border (Narathiwat province) Thai police found and disabled a truck bomb. The military government in Thailand believes the main reason the separatist violence continues is that there are many groups involved in carrying out the violence and many of them have different goals. The secular separatists just want the three Moslem provinces in the south to become a separate Malay state or an autonomous region. The Islamic terrorist separatists also want independence but a Malay state ruled by an Islamic religious dictatorship. There are also disagreements over tactics. The government makes it clear that a peace deal would be easier to achieve if there were only one separatist group to deal with. But that is unlikely to happen because the Moslem south has always been lawless and divided and there is no quick cure for that.

August 29, 2016: Malaysia has agreed to cooperate in building and maintaining a security fence along 245 kilometer border. Currently property owners are responsible for border fences along the border but many land owners don’t bother or work for smugglers to allow illegal traffic via their property. The new treaty will close that loophole. Malaysia has also agreed to cooperate with efforts to find the buyers of cell phones bought in Malaysia and used during terror bombings in Thailand.

August 23, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) a car bomb went off outside a hotel killing one person and wounding more than thirty.

 

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