South Thailand insurgency


South Thailand insurgency
South Thailand insurgency
Souththailandmap.GIF
The southern provinces of Thailand showing the Malay-Muslim majority areas
Date November 7, 2004– ongoing
Location Southern Thailand (in 3 provinces— Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat)
Status Conflict Ongoing
Belligerents
Flag of Thailand.svg Thailand Flag of Jihad.svg Mujahideen Pattani Movement (BNP)
Flag of Pattani.svg Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO)
Flag of Jihad.svg Pattani Islamic Mujahideen Movement (GMIP)
Flag of Jihad.svg Mujahideen Islamic Pattani Group
BRN.png National Revolution Front (BRN)
Flag of Jihad.svg Pattani Liberation National Front (BNPP)
Flag of Jihad.svg Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)
Flag of Jihad.svg Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK)
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Thailand.svg General Anupong Paochinda
Flag of Thailand.svg Lieutenant General Pichet Wisaijorn
Flag of Thailand.svg Abhisit Vejjajiva
Flag of Jihad.svg Wan Kadir Che Wan
Flag of Jihad.svg Abdullah Sungkar
Flag of Pattani.svg Kabir Abdul Rahman
Casualties and losses
500+ soldiers and policemen killed, 270 defense volunteers [1] 215 dead, 35 injured, 5,306 arrested, 21 executed and 21 served life sentences
4,800 killed,[2] 6,000+ wounded[3]

An ethnic separatist insurgency is taking place in Southern Thailand, predominantly in the Malay Pattani region, made up of the three southernmost provinces of Thailand. Violence has increasingly spilling over into other provinces. Although separatist violence has occurred for decades in the region, the campaign escalated in 2004.[4]

In July 2005 the former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, assumed wide-ranging emergency powers to deal with the insurgency. In September 2006, Army Commander Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, was granted an extraordinary increase in executive powers to combat the unrest.[5]

Soon afterwards, on 19 September 2006, Sonthi and a military junta ousted Thaksin in a coup. Despite reconciliatory gestures from the junta, the insurgency continued and intensified. The death toll, 1,400 at the time of the coup, increased to 2,579 by mid-September 2007.[6]

Despite little progress in curbing the violence, the junta declared that security was improving and that peace would come to the region in 2008.[7] The death toll surpassed 3,000 in March 2008.[8] During the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya noted a "sense of optimism" and said that he was confident of bringing peace in to the region within 2010.[9] By the end of 2010, insurgency-related violence had increased, confounding the government's optimism.[10] Finally in March 2011, the government conceded that violence was increasing and could not be solved in a few months.[11]

Contents

Causes of the insurgency

Dr. Giles Ji Ungpakorn claims the insurgency is based on historic causes including a 200 year "occupation", the 1960s resettlement of northeastern Thais[12] and to alleged Thai cultural and economic imperialism in Pattani. These include allegations of police brutality, lack of respect for Islam, drug trafficking, corruption, and the presence of culturally insensitive businesses such as bars selling alcohol (forbidden by Islam). However, there are counter-claims that drug trafficking is a major source of insurgent money. (Thai security personnel have also been accused of benefiting financially from drug trafficking.)

The Council for National Security, a military coup which had seized power in 2006, claimed to have evidence the insurgency was being financed by restaurants selling Tom Yam Kung soup in Malaysia. The Malaysian government argued the claim "absolutely baseless," and "very imaginative."

Some locals in the area support some kind of independence from Thailand; others clearly do not. The national referendum to support the junta-backed constitution for Thailand was favored by a majority in all three southernmost provinces and passed overwhelmingly in the southern region of Thailand, with 87% of the 3.7 million voters who participated there approving it.[13] Furthermore, while those in the insurgent groups support armed conflict, most Southern residents seem to want negotiation and compromise and the rule of law to return, along with an end to human rights abuses by both sides.

Identity of insurgency

A resurgence in violence by Pattani guerrilla groups began in 2001. The identity of the actors pushing conflict remains mostly obscure. Many local and regional experts have implicated the region's traditional separatist groups, such as PULO, BRN and GMIP, and particularly the BRN-Coordinate (a faction of BRN) and its alleged armed wing the Ronda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK).[14] Others suggested the violence occurred under the influence of foreign Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, but since their modus operandi – attacking army depots and schools – is not a similar MO to other groups attacking Western targets, most view the connections as weak.[15]

Some reports suggest that a number of Pattani Muslims have received training at al-Qaeda centres in Pakistan, though many experts believe, to the contrary, that the Pattani guerrilla movements have little or nothing to do with global jihadism. Others have claimed that the insurgents have forged links with groups such as the religious-nationalist Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines and the quasi-secular Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Indonesia.

At first, the government blamed the attacks on "bandits," and indeed many outside observers believed that local clan, commercial or criminal rivalries did play some part in the violence in the region. In July 2002, after some 14 policemen died in separate attacks over span of seven months, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra publicly denied the role of religion in the attacks, and was quoted as saying he did not "think religion was the cause of the problems down there because several of the policemen killed were Muslim".[16] Interior Minister Purachai Piemsomboon attributed the attacks on the police to the issue of drug control, as the "police are making serious efforts to make arrests over drugs trafficking."

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In 2002, Shinawatra stated, "There's no separatism, no ideological terrorists, just common bandits." By 2004 he had reversed his position, and has come to regard the insurgency as a local front in the global War on Terrorism. Martial law was instituted in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat in January 2004.[17]

In 2005, Bangkok Senator Sophon Supapong accused the United States of being the mastermind behind bombings in Hat Yai. His accusations were seconded by Perayot Rahimmula, Democratic MP and professor at Prince of Songkhla University (Pattani campus), though they could provide no convincing evidence to back up their accusation.[18]

In 2006, Thai Army Chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin, himself a Muslim, suggested that former communist insurgents might be playing a role in the unrest.[19] However, this is unlikely in that many former communists were incorporated into the Thai Rak Thai Party and hence would have provided other communists with a voice. Governors of the southern provinces showed some skepticism over his suggestion, but investigated the connection.

A striking aspect of the South Thailand insurgency is the anonymity of the people behind it and the absence of concrete demands. Thailand held relatively free elections in February 2005, and no secessionist candidates contested the results in the south. However, requests of cultural and religious freedom and the right to use the Yawi language have been presented numerous times. In July, the chairman of the Narathiwat Islamic Committee was quoted as saying, "The attacks look like they are well-organized, but we do not know what group of people is behind them."

Since the 2006 coup that replaced Thaksin, the Thai government has taken a more conciliatory approach to the insurgency, avoiding excessive use of force and beginning negotiations with known separatist groups. However, violence has escalated. This likely backs the assertion that there are several groups involved in the violence, few of whom have been placated by the government's change of strategy.[20]

On 3 June, Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha stated that the insurgency is orchrestrated from abroad and is funded via drug and oil smuggling.[21]

Political factors

The insurgency is probably not caused by the lack of political representation among the Muslim population. By the late 1990s, Muslims were holding unprecedentedly senior posts in Thai politics, for example with Wan Muhammad Nor Matha (a Malay Muslim from Yala) serving as Chairman of Parliament from 1996 to 2001 and later Interior Minister during the first Thaksin government. Thaksin's first government (2001–2005) also saw 14 Muslim MPs and several Muslim senators. Muslims dominated provincial legislative assemblies in the border provinces, and several southern municipalities had Muslim mayors. Muslims were able to voice their political grievances more openly and enjoy a much greater degree of religious freedom. However, the Thaksin regime began to dismantle the southern administration organization and replaced it with a notoriously corrupted police force which immediately began widespread crackdowns; consultation with local community leaders were also abolished. Discontent over the abuses led to growing violence during 2004 and 2005. Muslim politicians and leaders remained silent out of fear of repression, thus eroding their political legitimacy and support. This cost them dearly. In the 2005 general election, all but one of the eleven incumbent Muslim MPs who stood for election were voted out of office.[22]

Human Rights Issues

Human Rights Watch[23] cites abuses on both sides. The insurgents have attacked monks collecting alms. School teachers, principals, and students have been killed and schools torched presumably because schools represent the Thai Government. Government workers have been targeted for assassination. Buddhist villagers have been killed going about their routine work like rubber tapping. According to the Thai Journalists Association, there have been over 500 attacks resulting in more than 300 deaths in the four southern provinces where the insurgents operate in 2008.[24]

Meanwhile, Muslims have been beaten, killed, or "disappeared" during police questioning and custody. Human Rights Watch has documented at least 20 such disappearances.[25] Soldiers and police have sometimes been indiscriminate when pursuing suspected insurgents resulting in civilian collateral damage.

The 2010 World Report from Human Rights Watch highlights escalating human rights abuses throughout Thailand,[26] with the South reflecting overall policies against individual human rights. Sharply increased powers for police and the military accompany a perceived lack of accountability.

Economic factors

Poverty and economic problems have been cited as a factor behind the insurgency.[27][28] However, the performance of the deep South’s economy improved markedly in the past few decades. Between 1983 and 2003, the average per capita income of Pattani grew from 9,340 baht to 57,621 baht, while that of Yala and Narathiwat also increased from 14,987 baht and 10,340 baht to 52,737 baht and 38,553 baht, respectively. However, the border provinces did have the lowest average income among all the southern provinces.

Also the national average is even well below the estimated average needed to be considered an acceptable minimum wage by international organizations for SE Asia. One could thus argue that the average per capita income in the southern provinces mentioned is only about 20-25% of what Thai minimum wage should be)

Household income improved from 2002 to 2004 by 21.99%, 19.27%, and 21.28% for Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, respectively. For comparison, income growth for all of Thailand in the same period was just 9.4%.

The percentage of people living below the poverty line also fell, from 40%, 36%, and 33% in 2000 to 18%, 10%, and 23% in 2004 for Narathiwat, Narathiwat, and Yala, respectively. By 2004, the 3 provinces had 310,000 people living below the poverty line, compared to 610,000 in 2000. However, 45% of all poor Southerners lived in the 3 border provinces.[29][30]

Muslims in the border provinces generally have lower levels of educational attainment compared to their Buddhist neighbors. 69.80% of the Muslim population in the border provinces have only a primary school education, compared with 49.6% of Buddhists in the same provinces. Only 9.20% of Muslims have completed secondary education (including those who graduated from private Islamic schools), compared to 13.20% of Buddhists. Only 1.70% of the Muslim population have a bachelor’s degree, while 9.70% of Buddhists hold undergraduate degrees. However, one must keep in mind that schools are taught in Thai, and there is much resentment and even outright pulling of children out of Thai-run schools.

Muslims also had reduced employment opportunities compared to their Buddhist neighbors. Government officials comprised only 2.4% of all working Muslims in the provinces, compared with 19.2% of all working Buddhists. Jobs in the Thai public sector are difficult to obtain for those Muslim students who do not ever fully accept the Thai language or the Thai education system. Insurgent attacks on economic targets are further reducing employment opportunities for both Muslims and Buddhists in the provinces.

Escalation of violence

Attacks after 2001 concentrated on installations of the police and military, schools and other symbols of Thai authority in the region were burned. Local police officers of all ranks and government officials were the primary targets of seemingly random assassinations, with 19 policemen killed and 50 incidents related to the insurgency in the three provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat by the end of 2001.[31]

While earlier attacks were typified by drive-by shootings in which patrolling policemen were shot by gunmen on passing motorcycles, this quickly escalated to well coordinated attacks on police establishments, with police stations and outposts ambushed by well-armed groups who subsequently flee with stolen arms and ammunition. In 2002, 75 insurgency-linked attacks amounted to 50 deaths among police and army personnel. In 2003, officials counted 119 incidents. The mounting scale and sophistication of the insurgency eventually prompted the government into a recognition that there was a serious issue in the southern provinces.

On January 4, 2004, unidentified gunmen raided an army ammunition depot in Narathiwat Province in the early morning, and made off with over 100 rifles and other ammunition. In the midst of doing so, all four senior-ranking soldiers guarding the installation were murdered. This incident quickly escalated into large scale violence, with insurgents killing 600 people in a series of bombings and shootings aimed mainly at the police and the military, but also many civilians. Some bombings were directed at non-Muslim Thai residents of the area, leading to an exodus which has damaged the regional economy and increased its isolation from the rest of Thailand.

The Thai response to the insurgency was hampered by a lack of training in counter-insurgency methods, lack of understanding of local culture, and rivalries between the police and the army. Many local police are involved in the local drug trade and other criminal activities, and army commanders from Bangkok treat them with disdain. The army responded to insurgent attacks with heavy-handed raids on Muslim villages, which only resulted in reprisals. Insurgents provoked the inexperienced Thai government into disproportionate responses, generating sympathy among the Muslim populace.

Estimates of the strength of the insurgency vary greatly. In 2004 General Panlop Pinmanee said that there were only 500 hard-core insurgents. Other estimates say there as many as 15,000 armed insurgents. Some Thai analysts believe that foreign Islamist groups are infiltrating the area, and that foreign funds and arms are being brought in, though again, such claims are balanced by an equally large body of opinion suggesting this remains a distinctly local conflict.

The insurgency escalated, with a series of bomb attacks in Songkhla on April 3, 2005, and a major attack being launched on the provincial capital of Yala in July. In response, Thaksin issued a decree giving himself sweeping powers to direct military operations, suspend civil liberties, and censor the press. This action sparked protests from liberal sections of the Thai media and opposition parties.

In 2005, 131 civilians from the south fled to neighbouring Malaysia seeking refuge from the Thai authorities. Thailand immediately accused the refugees of being insurgents (even though women and children were in the group) and demanded that they be returned, sparking a diplomatic spat. Currently, the people are still in Malaysia.

On June 15, 2006, during the 60th anniversary of the accession of Bhumibol Adulyadej to the Thai throne, well coordinated bomb-attacks against at least 40 government and official buildings occurred. Two police officials died and 11 others were injured. Experts say that the bomb attacks were a message to the Thai authorities, rather than an attempt to do real damage, as the bombs were loaded with small amounts of explosives. Had the devices been larger, the casualties and injuries would have been notably greater. The Thai media was late in reporting the incident, and only did so after the BBC and other international broadcasters announced it.

On 22 November 2006, Wan Kadir Che Wan, leader of Bersatu, an umbrella organization for southern separatist groups, told Al Jazeera television that the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network was helping local insurgents stage attacks in Thailand.[32]

Separatist movements

Original arms of the PULO and GMIP

Four star PULO

Four star PULO is considered to be the most respected and popular separatist group in Patani with the most political clout and a large presence in the area although little is known about the group as they prefer to stay out of media and is working under a silence policy. During recent year this group has become increasingly visible though and been able to show their influence by gathering active separatist and organize them under their political wing and by being recognized internationally as representatives of the Patani People.

They are currently the political representatives by popular consent of GMIP and active military fractions of BRN, RKK and other groups. The four star is becoming increasingly powerful steadily gaining support and loyalty from separatist from different groups forcing different fractions to join their ranks. It is believed that this group could hold enough clout and trust to be able to enforce agreements with the Thai government and end violence against the military and militia from different separatist groups if negotiations would be held between the two.

On 26 July 2009 Abu Yasir Fikri, the President of PULO and the Emir of the Group of Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP), Me Kuteh, made an official agreement to join forces. The agreement includes giving Abu Yasir Fikri mandate to speak on behalf of the GMIP on all political issues. Further on, the agreement included a section in which the movements agreed to build one military force, the Patani Liberation Army, the PLA to be led by the First Deputy Military Commander of the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO).[33][34]

On 18 April 2009, PULO outlined a solution to conflict at the OICs Twelfth Meeting of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts considering the Conditions of Muslim Communities and Minorities in Jeddah the Original PULO president Abu yasir proposed a solution to the conflict.[35]

Krue Se Mosque Incident

On 28 April 2004, more than 100 militants carried out terrorist attacks against 10 police outposts across Pattani, Yala and Songkhla provinces in southern Thailand.[36] 32 gunmen retreated to the 425-year-old Krue Se Mosque, regarded by Muslims as the holiest mosque in Pattani.

General Pallop Pinmanee, commander of the Southern Peace Enhancement Center and Deputy Director of the Internal Security Operations Command, was the senior Army officer on the scene. After a tense seven hour stand-off, Pallop ordered an all out assault on the mosque. All of the gunmen were killed. He later claimed, "I had no choice. I was afraid that as time passed the crowd would be sympathetic to the insurgents, to the point of trying to rescue them."[37]

It was later revealed that Pallop's order to storm the mosque contravened a direct order by Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to seek a peaceful resolution to the stand-off no matter how long it took.[38] Pallop was immediately ordered out of the area, and later tendered his resignation as commander of the Southern Peace Enhancement Center. The forward command of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), which Pallop headed, was also dissolved. A government investigative commission later found that the security forces had overreacted. The Asian Centre for Human Rights questioned the independence and impartiality of the investigative commission. On 3 May 2004 during a Senate hearing, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan noted that most of those killed at Krue Se Mosque were shot in the head and there were signs that rope had been tied around their wrists.

The incident resulted in a personal conflict between Pallop and Defense Minister Chavalit, who was also director of the ISOC.[39] Pallop later demanded that the Defense Minister stop any involvement in the management of the southern insurgency.[40]

Tak Bai incident

In October 2004 the town of Tak Bai in Narathiwat province saw the most publicized incident of the insurgency. Six local men were arrested for having supplied weapons to insurgents. A demonstration was organized to demand their release and the police called in army reinforcements. The army used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd, and shooting started in which seven men were killed.

Hundreds of local people, mostly young men, were arrested. They were made to take off their shirts and lie on the ground. Their hands were tied behind their backs. Later that afternoon, they were thrown by soldiers into trucks to be taken to the Ingkayutthaboriharn army camp in the nearby province of Pattani. The prisoners were stacked five or six deep in the trucks, and by the time the trucks reached their destination five hours later, in the heat of the day, 78 men had suffocated to death.

This incident sparked widespread protests across the south, and indeed across Thailand, since many non-Muslim Thais were appalled at the army's behaviour. Thaksin, however, gave the army his full support. Those responsible for the ill-treatment and death of the detainees received the most minor of non-custodial punishments. Thaksin's initial response was to defend the army's actions, saying that the 78 men died "because they were already weak from fasting during the month of Ramadan."

Charges were filed against 58 suspects accused of participating in the demonstration. The trials went on at a slow place, and As of October 2006, the court had finished questioning of only two out of the 1,500 witnesses in the case. Police were also unable to find 32 Tak Bai protesters who were still at large after fleeing arrest.[41]

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont gave a formal apology for the incident on 2 November 2006.[42] The day afterwards, the number of violent acts increased fivefold, compared to the average in the preceding month.[43]

National Reconciliation Commission

On March 2005, respected former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun was appointed as chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission, tasked with overseeing that peace is brought back to the South. A fierce critic of the Thaksin-government, Anand frequently criticized the handling of the southern unrest, and in particular the State of Emergency Decree. He has been quoted to have said, "The authorities have worked inefficiently. They have arrested innocent people instead of the real culprits, leading to mistrust among locals. So, giving them broader power may lead to increased violence and eventually a real crisis." Unfortunately, the situation deteriorated from 2005 to 2006, with escalating violence, especially among teachers and civilians. Despite much criticism of the Thaksin-government's policies, Anand refused to submit the NRC's final report, choosing instead to wait for the results of the 2006 legislative election.[44]

Anand finally submitted the NRC's recommendations on 5 June 2006.[45] Among them were

  • Introducing Islamic law
  • Making ethnic Pattani-Malay (Yawi) as a working language in the region
  • Establishing an unarmed peacekeeping force
  • Establishing a Peaceful Strategic Administrative Centre for Southern Border Provinces

The Thaksin government vowed to implement the recommendations. However, the recommendations were vigorously opposed by Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Privy Council, who stated "We cannot accept that [proposal] as we are Thai. The country is Thai and the language is Thai... We have to be proud to be Thai and have the Thai language as the sole national language".[46]

Negotiation attempts

Attempts to negotiate with insurgents were hampered by the anonymity of the insurgency's leaders.

In May 2004, Wan Kadir Che Man, exiled leader of Bersatu (an umbrella organization for the PULO (fivestar), New PULO, and the BRN) and for years one of the key symbolic figures in the guerrilla movement, stated that he would be willing to negotiate with the Government to end the southern violence. He also hinted that Bersatu would be willing to soften its previous demands for an independent state.[47][48]

The government initially welcomed the request to negotiate. However, the government response was severely criticized as being "knee-jerk" and "just looking to score cheap political points."[48] But when it became apparent that, despite his softened demand for limited autonomy, Wan Kadir Che Man had no influence over the violence, the negotiations were cancelled.[48] The government then began a policy of not attempting to officially negotiate with the insurgents.[49]

After being appointed Army Commander in 2005, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin expressed confidence that he could resolve the insurgency. He claimed that he would take a "new and effective" approach to a crisis and that "The Army is informed [of who the insurgents are] and will carry out their duties."[50]

On 1 September 2006, a day after 22 commercial banks were simultaneously bombed in Yala province, Sonthi announced that he would break with the government no-negotiation policy. However, he noted that "We still don't know who is the real head of the militants we are fighting with."[51] In a press conference the next day, he attacked the government for criticizing him for trying to negotiate with the anonymous insurgents, and demanded that the government "Free the military and let it do the job."[52] His confrontation with the government made his call for negotiation extremely popular with the media.[49] Afterwards, insurgents bombed 6 department stores in Hat Yai city, which until then had been free of insurgent activities. As always, the identity of the insurgents was not revealed. Sonthi was granted an extraordinary increase in executive powers to combat unrest in the far South.[5] By 19 September 2006 (after Sonthi overthrew the Thai government), the Army admitted that it was still unsure who to negotiate with.[53]

Attacks and responses since 2004

A massive security presence in the region has failed to stem almost daily violence, usually involving drive-by shootings or small bombings. When the insurgents make a show of strength — generally at least every few months — they have eschewed large-scale attacks, preferring well-coordinated pinprick assaults at many locations while avoiding direct clashes with security forces.[54]

  • On November 7, 2004, the Defence Minister of Thailand said that there had been more than 700 casualties in south Thailand since the unrest began in January. Many murders involved shooting and decapitation.
  • Songkhla bombings. A series of three bombings on April 3, 2005 kill two people leave 66 injured.
  • On July 19, 2005, the Thai Prime Minister enacted the "emergency powers law" in order to manage the three troubled states. Several human rights organizations and local press have expressed their concerns that these new powers might be used to violate civil liberty rights. However, the emergency decree was highly popular, with 72% of Bangkok residents and 86% of people in the three southern provinces supporting it.[55]
  • On September 1, 2005, three bombs exploded almost simultaneously.[56] Subsequently, as many as 131 Thais crossed into Malaysia to seek refuge.[57] Thailand, suspecting that insurgents may also have fled with the refugees, has asked Malaysia to return these Thai citizens but Malaysia has refused on humanitarian grounds.[58]
  • On 7 January 2006, four suspected militants fatally shoot two border-policemen in the back at a crowded weekend market in Yala Province. (The Nation) Three others were also killed in separate attacks on the same day.[59]
  • On 18 June 2006, mass graves were found in southern Thailand [60][61]
  • On 31 August 2006, 22 commercial banks were simultaneously bombed in Yala province, killing a retired military officer and wounding 24 people. Afterwards, Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin announced that he would break with government policy and negotiate with the leaders of the insurgency. However, he noted that "We still don't know who is the real head of the militants we are fighting with."[62] In a press conference the next day, he slammed the government for political interference, and asked that the government "Free the military and let it do the job."[63] By 16 September 2006, the Army admitted that it still wasn't sure who to negotiate with.[64]
  • 2006 Hat Yai bombings. On 16 September 2006, six remotely detonated motorcycle bombs simultaneously exploded in the city of Hat Yai, killing four people and wounding more than sixty. A Canadian and a Malaysian were among the dead.[65]

As of September 2006, more than 1,400 people have died in less than three years of southern violence. Most have been innocent bystanders, both Buddhists and Muslims.[66]

After the September 2006 coup

A brief lull in the insurgency followed the 19 September 2006 coup that overthrew the government of Premier Thaksin Shinawatra. As Army Commander Sonthi Boonyaratkalin settled into his role as head of the junta, violence resumed.

  • On 21 September, 2 villagers were shot in Yala, killing one and wounding another.[67]
  • On 23 September, 4 policemen were injured in a bus stop explosion in Pattani. The bus stop was on a road that would be passed by the motorcade of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn later that afternoon.[68][69]
  • On 25 September, 2 police stations and a military outpost were attacked by 30 gunmen in a coordinated series of attacks in Yala, leaving 2 dead and 1 injured.[70]
  • On 27 September, gunmen killed a grocer and two of his customers in Muang district of Yala and a traveller on the bus from Panare district to Mayo district of Pattani.[71]
  • On 28 September, a teacher protection unit in Sungai Padi district of Narathiwat province was ambushed by a bomb attack, seriously injuring 4 soldiers and killing one.[72]
  • On 4 November, three schools burned to the ground and a person received a gunshot injury.[73]
  • On 9 November, 8 car and motorcycle showrooms were simultaneously bombed in Yala, injuring 13. Almost all gold shops in Muang district closed down for fear of their safety. Commercial banks remained opened but with tightened security.[74]

Despite the renewed violence, a post-coup opinion poll found that Southerners had become the happiest people of Thailand.[75] From January 2004 to October 2006, 1,815 people were killed and 2,729 were wounded in the insurgency.[76]

However, greater violence forced all schools in Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat provinces to be shut down indefinitely from 27 November 2006. Over 1,000 schools were shut down.[77][78]

Violence has continued into 2007, on February 18, a series of bombings and arsons began in Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, and Songkhla provinces. 6 people were killed and over 50 were injured.[79]

Between May 27 and May 29, 2007, several concerted bombings occurred in Hat Yai downtown in front of markets, shops and hotels as well as in Saba Yoi, killing more than four people and injuring over 20.[80]

Post-coup reorganization

The junta implemented a major policy shift by replacing Thaksin's earlier approach with a campaign to win over the "hearts and minds" of the insurgents. Junta chairman Sonthi Boonyaratglin announced that the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) and the Civilian-Police-Military Task Force (CPM) 43 would be revived. Sonthi said the Army-led multi-agency Southern Border Provinces Peace Building Command would be dissolved and its troops would come under the CPM 43, which would operate in parallel with the SBPAC. The SBPAC and CPM 43 had been dissolved in mid-2001 by former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Before that, CPM 43 was under the directive of the SBPAC. Sonthi also made himself head of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). Previously, the ISOC had been headed by the Prime Minister.[81]

The ISOC was given 5.9 billion baht in funding for fiscal year 2007. By May 2007, General Sonthi asked the government for an additional emergency budget of 2 billion baht for ISOC, as the normal budget was running out. The money was under the "secret budget" category, which meant that state officials could spend it without having to account for it to the government.[82]

In November 2006, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont revealed that the insurgency was being financed by restaurants and stalls selling Tom Yam Kung in Malaysia. Surayud claimed that the Tom Yam Kung network collected money from local businessmen through blackmail and demands for protection fees and channelled the sum to the separatists.[83] Malaysian Deputy Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow described the revelation as "absolutely baseless," and "very imaginative."[84]

Junta-chief Sonthi announced that the insurgency was a second priority for him, behind the issue of dealing with "undercurrents" who still supported the deposed elected government.[85] Meanwhile, the junta shifted intelligence resources, surveillance equipment, and phone-tapping equipment from the South to Bangkok, in order to deal with political dissenters.[86] Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas also noted that worries over further attacks in Bangkok did not focus on Southern insurgents, but rather on "a man who is in exile" - a remark that the media interpreted as deposed Prime Minister Thaksin.[87] Sonthi later refused to transfer additional troops to the South, instead keeping them in Bangkok to perform what he called "community relations work."[88]

Ongoing violence

School shutdown

On November 27, 2006, after all schools in Pattani announced indefinite shutdown, teachers in Yala and Narathiwat decided to follow suit and close down the schools in the two provinces indefinitely due to fear for safety. The decision in Pattani was made the week before after a series of arson and the brutal and fatal shooting of 2 schoolteachers.Link: Schools in Narathiwat and Yala to be closed indefinitely

Escalating violence

Violence escalated in the months following the implementation of the junta's "hearts and minds" campaign. The monthly death toll increased by 30% in the 5 months after the coup compared to the 5 months before the coup.[43] Insurgents targeted Princess Sirindhorn by placing a bomb near her helicopter’s landing pad.[89] A senior aide to Queen Sirikit, Thanpuying Viriya Chavakul, was injured and narrowly escaped death when gunmen attacked her vehicle convoy on 21 February 2007 in Yala.[90] She later criticized the government for rotating troops too often, preventing them from building bonds with locals. She also made note of troops' lack of communications equipment and bulletproof vests.[91]

On January 14, a rubber tapper named Pin Khotchathin was beheaded in Yala. His head was found at a rubber plantation in Tambon Tasae in Yala's Mueang district five metres from his body.[92] It was the 22nd murder to feature attempted beheading since May 2004, although the militants were not always successful in removing their victim's head.[93]

A handwritten note was left near Pin's head warning of further bloodshed to avenge what the attackers, calling themselves Pattani Warriors, claimed was a case of authorities killing separatist members.

Facing rising violence, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont accused Muslim junta chief Sonthi Boonyaratkalin of failing to do enough to curb the insurgency.[94]

After an official visit to Thailand, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi volunteered to act as a mediator in arranging talks between insurgents and Thai authorities. Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram rejected the offer.[95]

During the Chinese New Year weekend (from the evening of 18 February 2007 to the afternoon of 19 February 2007), insurgents executed 38 bombing attacks, 26 cases of arson, and seven ambushes. The bombings targeted hotels, karaoke bars, power grids and commercial sites. Two public schools were torched. Three people were arrested.[96][97] Junta chief Sonthi and Interior Minister Aree Wongsearaya admitted that they knew in advance that attacks were going to take place, then failed to their occurrence.[98] Aree later admitted that the government's southern strategy was flawed.[99]

In their most significant act of economic terrorism and arson to date, insurgents burned down the Southland Rubber warehouse in Yala, destroying 5,000 tons of rubber worth approximately 400 million baht and engulfing Yala city in a dense cloud of black smoke for 12 hours. Thirty fire trucks fought to control the flames in the largest rubber warehouse in the deep south. Spikes were scattered on the road leading to the warehouse to slow down the emergency workers. No casualties were reported.[100]

On 14 March, 8 commuters from Betong to Hat Yai were executed after their van was stopped by insurgents. A roadside bomb delayed rangers stationed nearby in their efforts to reach the site.[101]

A Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) executive blamed a portion of the violence directly on paramilitary rangers who instigated violence and then blamed insurgents for their deeds.[102]

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn's motorcade was against targeted with a bombing in March 2007. A local police team found the bomb before it could explode.[103]

On 9 April 2007, a pick-up truck carrying students and other passengers returning from a funeral was shot upon, killing two 12-year-old boys and two other 25-year-old university students. The funeral was for the Khuen Bang Lang tambon administration organisation chief, who was shot dead hours earlier the same day. The military initially claimed that insurgents were behind the shooting. It later admitted that village defence volunteers attacked, after allegedly being "provoked" by insurgent sympathisers on the truck. Several hundred angry villagers staged protests against the shooting, demanding the government take action against those responsible.[104]

Protest after a misapprehending shooting by security forces, Thai soldiers in Pattani shot and killed three Muslim teenagers on 13 April 2007. The soldiers, who were dispatched to investigate the torching of four mobile-phone relay outlets, opened fire on a group of teenagers when the soldiers thought the teenagers were charging at them. Locals reported that the teenagers were playing tag on the road near a weekly open market close to where the soldiers were investigating. Three teenagers, aged 13 to 15 years-old, were killed and two others were injured. Local Army commander Colonel Wanchai Paungkhumsa initially said the soldiers had acted in self-defense, saying that gunshots were fired from where a teenager was standing. Residents ended their protest after reaching a series of agreements with Pattani Governor Panu Uthairath over the shooting. The military agreed to investigate the shootings, and if it was a negligent act, The soldier would be faced criminal charge, transferred out of the area and an apology would be given to locals.[105]

May 14, 2007, Separatist insurgents shot dead a Thai-Buddhist couple working as fruit pickers in the majority-Muslim area of Bannang Sata, Yala provine and injured their three-year-old daughter. After gunning down Praphan Ponlarak, 36, and his wife Chaddakan, the assailants decapitated Praphan, making him the 29th victim to be beheaded in Thailand's troubled deep South.[106]

On August 3, 2008, five bombs went off in the town of Songkhla injuring 2 people. The same night, two bombs also exploded in Hat Yai, but caused no casualties.[107]

Junta responses

In the face of escalating violence, the junta announced a switch from defensive to "hard-line" tactics and an improvement of efforts to crack down on narcotics abuse by insurgents.[108]

In March 2007, the junta's top security advisor admitted that insurgents imported their techniques from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and were motivated by not only by nationalist reasons, like previous generations of insurgents, but religious extremism as well.[109][110] However, it noted that it still did not know who was behind the insurgency.[111]

To protect the Buddhist minority from violence, the Internal Security Operations Command produced Jatukham Rammathep amulets for public distribution. The renowned animist amulets were believed by some to have magical powers to protect their holders from violence and large sums were generally paid for them. The plan was developed by Colonel Manas Khongpan, deputy director of the ISOC in Yala province.[112]

In March 2007, Queen Sirikit vowed to protect people of all religions in the South, and initiated weapons training programmes for locals, particularly teachers. Sirikit's deputy aide-de-camp Napol Boonthap said that the government should review its strategy and not only use a reconciliatory approach towards the insurgents. "Legal action must also be taken against the wrongdoers to show we mean business," he said.[103]

In April 2007, junta chief Sonthi rejected an American offer to help train Thai forces to quell the insurgency. Sonthi continued to deny that international terrorists operate in the South.[113]

In May 2007, Sonthi started withdrawing troops from the South, replacing them with territorial defence volunteers. He did not say why the regular army was to be reduced in the South.[114]

Despite the above, violence continued with a noted trend towards targeting soldiers and policemen, particularly after the militants' actions were criticized by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.[115] On 9 May 2007, the army saw its worse casualty in a single incident in years, when seven soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing incident.[116] Two policemen were shot dead and their bodies burnt in another attack on 11 May 2007,[117][118] which the authorities suspect were conducted by the same group which killed the soldiers.[119] Another 11 soldiers were killed on 31 May 2007 in similar style to the incident on 9 May.[120]

From January 2004 to 21 June 2007, the South witnessed 6,850 violent incidents related to the insurgency. At least 2,303 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured in that time, found Srisompob Jitpiromsri of Prince of Songkhla University's Pattani campus.[121]

In July 2007, Former Fourth Army chief Harn Leelanont criticized the junta's reconciliation policy in the South, saying it left security personnel incapable of containing the violence. He claimed that it left officials and innocent people as sitting ducks to be picked off by militants.[122]

The military junta went on a massive spending spree, buying new weaponry and a dozen fighter jets from Sweden, saying it needed the hardware to battle the insurgency.[123]

2010

On 2 January, three soldiers and 3 civilians were injured by roadside bombs in Yala at 10 am in Bannang Sata district, Yala Province.[124]
On 13 January, Mayo district chief Wirat Prasetto was seriously injured along with ten other civilians when a bomb detonated at a pier in Pattani province. The bombing is being blamed on Muslim insurgents. One person was killed in the explosion.[125]
On 1 April, suspect insurgents shot dead six villagers in Narathiwat Province. Ten policemen and soldiers were also wounded when a roadside bomb exploded as they were traveling to the scene of the shootings.[126]
On 22 May, two female villagers were killed in a drive-by shooting in Yala Province by suspected separatist militants.[127]
On 28 May 2010, two were killed and 52 injured in two bomb attacks in Yala [128]

On 8 September, police apprehended a RKK leader while he was in his house in Yala Province [129]

2011

On 11 February, three people were shot and burned.[130] A car bomb exploded on the 13th which injured 18 people, civilians and soldiers, leaving seven hospitalised.[131] Meanwhile, an insurgent was shot dead by soldiers.

On 22 March, a man and two women were shot in a remote village of Narathiwat Province on evening by about a dozen armed men. Police suspect the gunmen were Muslim insurgents who believed their victims were informants.[132]

On 23 March, a roadside bomb went off one morning in a remote village of Narathiwat province when a truck carrying police arrived. None were wounded. The killings the night before could also have been staged to lure security personnel to the scene to be attacked.[132]

On 18 April, a car bomb exploded in the business district of Yala, killing a Thai paramilitary ranger and injuring 23 people including four other rangers.[133]

On 3 May, two grenades were fired at Pattani Task Force 21 base, but did not hurt anyone.

On 11 May, a fatal bomb blast during a football match in Kapho District in Pattani Province, killing four officers and wounding 13 others. Eight suspects have been detained. In Yala Province, two officers and two civilians were injured after a roadside bomb detonated in Meung District.[134]

On 14 May, 4 insurgents came and demanded money from a gas station. The wife of the owner refused, resulting them shooting her and her sister. After that, the owner of the gas station came and shot one of the insurgents 3 times, killing him, resulting the other 3 to retreat. The dead insurgent turned out to be a minor leader operating in the area who is wanted for the 2009 Narathiwat bombings.

On 17 May, a roadside bomb detonated in Yaha district in Yala Province, killing two monks and seriously wounding two of their security escorts. More than 100 local Muslims gathered at the local mosque and condemned to violence [135]

On 18 May, a Thahan Phran from the 47th Regiment was seriously wounded when attackers sprayed rounds of automatic weapons into his body in Yala, Meung District [136]

On 20 May, a 30 man Thahan Phran unit from the 47th Regiment fought against 4 separatists insurgents in Ban Charupae in Tharn To district in Yala, resulting the death of all 4 insurgents. They seized 2 AK-47 assault rifles, a 38 caliber pistol and 9 mobile phones. One of the dead insurgents was identified as Ma-ae Aphibalbae, a key leader operating in the area who is responsible for over 28 alleged crimes with a bounty worth of 2,000,000 baht.[137][138] Meanwhile in Narathiwat Province, two carbombs exploded, injuring a policeman and 8 other civilians.[139]

On 22 May, in Nong Chick, Pattani Province, suspected insurgents shot a couple, Mr Pong and Mrs Somchit Khunee-art, killing both of them.[140]

On 24 May, in Tak Bai, Narathiwat Province, a bomb detonated, killing a policeman and a policewoman while they were distributing food to the local community. Pol Sgt Ubonwan Chindapetch was the first policewoman to die in an explosion in the south.[140] Meanwhile, in Sai Buri District, Pattani Province, an unknown number of gunmen came and shot Muhammat Stapo, the younger brother of Ismael Rayahlong, a major RKK leader operationg in the area who was responsible of the killing of 2 monks on 17 May this year.[141][142] Finally, in Krong Penang district, Yala Province, insurgents shot dead Barudin Sama, assistant village head of Ban Tohbala as he was riding to the tea shop.[140]

On 25 May, 12 soldiers from the 13 Regiment in Yala were ambushed by 3 insurgents, resulting the death of one soldier, Private Chuchat Kaeowonghio. A few hours later, a bomb detonated under a humvee carrying 20 soldiers, seriously wounding 6 of them.[142]

On 27 May, police apprehended 2 RKK leaders in Narathiwat Province [143]

On 30 May, a bomb went off in Meung District, Yala Province, wounding 5 soldiers

On 31 May, 2 insurgents accidentally detonated a bomb, killing themselves and injuring one other insurgent in Narathiwat Province. One of the dead insurgensts was identified as Abas Abu, wanted on multiple charges of attacking state officials and multiple bombings. His brother was the insurgent shot dead on February this year[144]

On 2 June, 8 Navy SEALS from Narathiwat Task Force 32 clashed with 5 RKK insurgents in the [Budo Mountain Range], resulting the death of 3 insurgents while the other 2 got away. They seized 2 M16 Assault rifles, 1 .38 pistol, 1 land mine, 1 grenade and over a 100 ammunition. Two of the dead insurgents have been identified as senior recruitment members of the RKK while the last person has been identified as the bomb maker of the group [145][146][147]

On 4 June, soldiers managed to find 2 bombs in the middle of Tak Bai Market, which if exploded without warning, could kill many.[148]

On 1 October, a truck driver, Pisuth Boonnap, was shot and killed in Pattani Province. In Narathiwat Province, Chanae distric, a village chief, Waepayunan Sideh, was shot three times and died instantly. A motorcade of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre secretary-general Panu Uthairat was ambushed by armed men in Pattani yesterday afternoon as well, injuring none. [149][150][151]

On 3 October, three people were shot, two houses were burnt, and a bomb went off with the missing a tank with 6 soldiers in Pattani Province. While police found a massive hole between the Pattani-Yala rail way, authorities said it was an attempt to hide a bomb and detonate when the train passes by. [1]

On 20 October, a wood trader, Daruslan Baka, was shot dead in Narathiwat Province [152]

On 25 October, 10 bombs went off in Meung District, Yala Province, killing 3 people and injuring 44 others. Two of the dead were insurgents that their bombs accidentally went off when they hit a speed hump, while the third dead person is identified as Settawut Thongjeen,. Soldiers were able to defuse another 21 bombs. Over 60 insurgents were involved in this attack. While in Pattani Province, Sai Buri district, Sgt Maj Kriangkrai Ruamthong was wounded when insurgents ambushed a patrol, while Sgt Somporn Kaewthongprakam was seriously wounded in an attack in Pattani Province. [153]

On 30 October, 2 men were shot and injured by suspected insurgents in Rueso District, Narathiwat Province. [154]

On 31 October, 10 bombs went off in five districts across Narathiwat Province, injuring none. However, suspected insurgents gunned down 2 people at a petrol station. The victims were identified as Srithong Masi and Theeerapong Sae Lim, while another, Mali Masi, was also shot and killed at a nearby grocery shop. In Yala Province, a police officer, Pol Cpl Ruangrit Rongthip was wounded in an explosion. [155][156]

On 2 November, in Yala Province, a 20 kg bomb went off, injuring 2 police border patrol officers of the Yala 44 regiment, and seriously injuring one other, Sansern Nama. [157]

On 3 November, in Narathiwat Province, a 50-man police-military joint force arrested and apprehened an insurgent who was respnsible for plainting a bomb in Narathiwat on 30 October. He confessed that he planted the bomb. [158]. While in Ra-ngae District, six hunters were killed and one seriously injured when insurgents blew their truck up, and later that day, 6 other military personnel were injured at the same place. [159]

On 4 November, an unknown number of insurgents fired M-79 grenade launchers into a military checkpoint, seriously injuring a passerby, Tiem Bangkeaw in Pattani Province [160]. In Narathiwat Province], a joint military-defense volunteer task force apprehended two suspected insurgents carrying a shotgun and a 9mm pistol. [161] [162]

On 14 November, in Narathiwat Province, Rusdee Hayeelau, a rubber taper, an unknown number of insurgents shot three times in the body and died at the scene on his way to work. [163]

Casualties

Note: Table is not comprehensive

Year Killed
2004 625[164]
2005 550[164]
2006 780[164]
2007 770[164]
2008 450[164]
2009 310[164]

Government harassment of suspected insurgents

The Asian Human Rights Commission accused the military of beating and torturing suspected insurgents by burning their genitals with cigarettes, smashing beer bottles over their knees, and chaining them to dogs. Such abuses were alleged to have occurred in October 2006, after the military seized power.[165]

In December 2006, a group of 20 Muslims, 9 men and 11 women aged between 2 and 55, sought political asylum in Malaysia. They claimed that the post-coup regime was more aggressive against civilians and that they were continuously harassed by the Army. The Army admitted that the group sought refuge in Malaysia out of fear for their lives - but that the threat was from forces.[166]

A group of Muslims from Narathiwat that fled to Malaysia in March 2007 claimed that they were escaping intimidation and brutality by the military. The group complained that they have been beaten and that their sons have been missing or detained since 2005. It also claimed that some youths had died after they were poisoned during detention.[167]

See also

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Further reading

  • McCargo, Duncan (September 2008). Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand. Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801474996 
  • David K Wyatt, Thailand: A Short History (Yale University Press, 2003)
  • Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, Thaksin: The Business of Politics in Thailand (Silkworm Books, 2004)
  • Nirmal Ghosh, "Mystery group runs insurgency in Thai south," Straits Times, 25 July 2005
  • "Tak Bai victims and relatives file lawsuits" The Bangkok Post, 23 October 2005

External links

Note: Some of these websites may be censored for internet access from within Thailand


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