Turmoil is southern Thailand

Insurgency is rampant on the Thailand-Malaysia border.

Insurgency is rampant on the Thailand-Malaysia border.

Decades of violence show no signs of letting up

Article: Dietrich Neu – Foreign Correspondent 

The deadly violence in the south of Thailand is becoming an almost daily occurrence.

On Monday, Oct. 21, the body of a dead Thailand army ranger was found in Pattani, one of three southern Thai regions that have been plagued by violent outbursts from insurgent groups for almost a decade. An autopsy revealed the ranger was struck in the back of the head by a blunt object.

Just one day earlier, a bombing in Narathiwat, just south of Pattani, injured eight soldiers, sending many of them to the hospital. A secondary bomb that went off after they arrived to cover the incident also injured five journalists.

Unfortunately, the two new incidents are among the least violent the region has seen this year, or even in recent weeks. Earlier in October, 26 ATMs were rigged with bombs and were simultaneously detonated. Insurgents then opened fire on police with automatic weapons after the blasts; one civilian was killed in the crossfire.

One day before that, four insurgents and two police officers were killed in a violent shootout that lasted several hours.

In May, six civilians, including a two-year-old boy were gunned down after insurgents opened fire on a mom-and-pop grocery store with M-16 assault rifles, police said.

The south of Thailand has been rife with violence for nearly a decade, but increasingly so after 2004. The ongoing conflict is simply known as the “unrest in the south” by many locals.

Multiple attempts at peace talks between the government and insurgent groups have failed over the years and the frequency have increased. The most recent talks in September appeared to have failed, and militant assaults on military and civilian areas continue at an unrelenting pace.

[pullquote]“In May, six civilians, including a two-year-old boy were gunned down after insurgents opened fire on a mom-and-pop grocery store with M-16 assault rifles, police said.” [/pullquote]

The trouble has become such a regular occurrence that mainstream media outlets are being criticized by journalists like Sanitsuda Ekachai, associate editor of the Bangkok Post, for giving the issue scant attention.

There is also a growing division among Thais as to what the appropriate response to the insurgency should be. Most believe in continued negotiations, but there are an increasing number of people calling for harsher military responses. Many southern Thais have been angered by the insurgents, who often attack quickly and then withdraw over the Thailand-Malaysia border to prevent counter offensives, racing away on motorcycles or in trucks while dropping piles of nails behind them to stifle police pursuits.

There are currently eight different insurgent factions, and the government has struggled to mitigate the violence, by any means, due to the diversity of rebel groups at work.

Thailand’s constantly revolving government has made controlling the situation difficult as well. In 2005, Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s government appeared to bring more stability to the region by increasing the Thai military presence in the area. However, Shinawatra’s government was overthrown by a junta coup shortly after in 2006, and the violence in the south picked up as the junta failed to control the region.

The driving force behind the insurgency is a long-standing separatist movement led predominantly by Malaysian groups living in the three southernmost regions of Thailand. The regions under dispute (Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala), were once under Malaysian control before the area was conquered by Thailand in 1785. A 1909 treaty with the United Kingdom (which had colonized Malaysia) allowed the Thais to keep the territory, without consent from Malaysia, which is believed to be the driving factor behind the insurgent movements.

The conflict shows no signs of letting up.

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