Briefs

(Source: Nikkei)

Thai Military Continues Counter-Insurgency Operations Amid Peace Process

Jacob Zenn

Amid rising hopes for a more inclusive peace process in southern Thailand, the Thai military is continuing its counter-insurgency operations against ethnic Malay Muslim militants. This represents a strategy whereby the military is allowing talks at the same time that operations remain active.

On April 24, a Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) faction called “G5” conducted two bombings in southern Thailand, but the Thai government asserted it would not allow the faction to derail the peace process (thephuketnews.com, April 16). PULO leader Kasturi Mahkota stated that the bombings were because “the [peace] talks are not inclusive enough” by not including PULO and are “going too fast” (i24news.tv, April 24). Instead, the talks included only the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), whose main demands fall short of political autonomy for ethnic Malay Muslims in Thailand and involve the Thai government recognizing their distinct language and culture.

The PULO attacks, which occurred during an ostensible Ramadan ceasefire and killed one and injured three, tell us that Makhota, in fact, wanted PULO to become part of the peace talks. Initially, Makhota had refused to join the peace talks if they occurred within the framework of the Thai Constitution, which would mean independence for the country’s Malay Muslims would be off the table. However, Makhota reversed course by June 2022 and noted that his people should have the right to eventually choose their own constitution (benarnews.org, June 24). The April 2022 bombings may, therefore, have been part of a pressure campaign to force the Thai government to include PULO in the peace talks.

Notwithstanding developments on the negotiation front, the Thai military is still conducting counter-terrorism operations. On July 5, for example, the military raided a cell in Pattani in southern Thailand and killed a militant with a pistol and two homemade bombs (thesundaily.com, July 5). Although the military did not specify what, if any, militant group the individual belonged to, the operation demonstrated the military would not sit idly by while G5 or another faction attempted to interrupt peace talks for a second time.

Following that operation, on July 8, the Thai military conducted another raid against PULO militants, killing two and arresting eight (benarnews.org, July 8). Unsurprisingly, they were from the G5 faction, which has typically sought to disrupt peace talks with violent attacks. The raid also revealed that the cell had been engaging in drug trafficking as a way to fund its militant operations. In addition, printed propaganda leaflets were found in the house that was raided, which demonstrates how much of PULO’s recruitment occurs in-person as opposed to Internet or social media operations (station-ia.com, July 8).

With the next round of negotiations scheduled for August 1–2, the leaders from the Thai government and military and from the PULO and BRN will have an opportunity to make history by moving to end the conflict. However, a plethora of militants, including in the G5 faction, are seeking to derail the talks. Notwithstanding progress to date, the prospects for tangible results should still be considered unlikely.

Jacob Zenn is the Editor of Terrorism Monitor.

 

 

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Turkey and US Clash Over Killings of Kurdish Militants

Jacob Zenn

On July 25, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and top opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) members both condemned the statement from US Central Command (CENTCOM) that offered condolences for the deaths of Jiyan Afrin and two other Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) female commanders (dailysabah.com, July 25). According to the SDF, Jiyan Afrin and her comrades had taken part in the SDF’s US-backed battles against the Islamic State (IS). The organization asserted that their deaths would weaken the continuing efforts to limit IS’s attempts to come back in eastern Syria (Twitter/MazloumAbdi, July 24).

Jiyan Afrin was born in the Qandil Mountains in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Typical of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s Marxist ideology, she rejected the “male-dominated system” and sought to participate in a “gender struggle.” Eventually, with the onset of the Syrian war, Jiyan Afrin became such a formidable militant that Turkey sought her elimination, and CENTCOM felt she was uniquely worthy of praise (Youtube/RealStories, July 19, 2021).

The killings highlight the continued rift between Turkey and the US over the latter’s tolerance of the SDF’s associations with the PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist group and the US itself has designated as a terrorist group. The US reliance on the SDF to counter IS has necessitated its collaboration with the SDF. Turkey, however, has most recently demanded the US abandon its positions east of the Euphrates and its collaboration with the SDF or the People’s Defense Units (YPG), which would pave the way for Turkish forces to predominate that region and take responsibility for fighting IS (hurriyetdailynews.com, July 20).

Turkey is also playing the “NATO card” by announcing that it has told US President Joe Biden that both countries are supposed to mutually protect each other, not support each other’s enemies. Should the US continue to defy Turkish demands, Turkey could make it more difficult for new members to join NATO, like it did with Finland and Sweden (dw.com, July 18).

In addition, Turkey has played a mediating role between Russia and Ukraine, including facilitating their agreement to allow Ukraine to export grain to alleviate the global food crisis (euronews.com, July 21). As a result, Turkey could eventually link its positions on Sweden and Finland and mediating between Russia and Ukraine, which are key issues for US foreign policy toward Russia and to the US ending its cooperation with the SDF and YPG in eastern Syria, even though Russia also would oppose any further Turkish incursions in that region.

Until Turkey expands its presence in eastern Syria or comes to a new accommodation with the US on its cooperation with the SDF and YPG, as well as NATO matters, Turkey will continue targeted attacks on Kurdish militants. During the same period when Jiyan Afrin was killed, Turkish drone strikes killed 15 other people in SDF-held areas (syriahr.com, July 23). Thus, the tensions between Turkey and the US on the “Kurdish issue” in Syria show no sign of subsiding in the immediate future.

Jacob Zenn is the Editor of Terrorism Monitor.