Thailand’s south deteriorating

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 14

With the declaration of emergency law in the provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, the Thai government has effectively underscored that the Muslim insurgency in the south, despite official rhetoric that it is calming down, has shown no signs of being brought under control. In this area, in addition to security personnel, civilians unconnected to government authority are subject to attacks on a daily basis, many of them motorcycle hit and run attacks and beheadings designed to terrorize the Buddhist population into leaving the Muslim dominated region. Regional police statistics indicated over 200 deaths and 600 injuries over the first six months of 2005. On July 15, according to the Thai newspaper The Nation, the insurgency notched up one of its most daring raids to date, with the destruction of electrical transformers, blacking out the capital of Yala province, followed by a series of detonations of explosives and firebombs in commercial areas [].

Soon after the raid, a new decree was signed into law, authorizing Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to declare a state of emergency and implement security measures with powers including the imposition of curfews, the banning of public gatherings, news and publications censorship, travel restrictions, extended detention and phone taps. The measures come as Defense Minister Thammarak Isarangura openly admitted that “the troops that have been deployed have been unable to fight the insurgency effectively because they are trained to fight in the jungle, not in cities and villages.” Unease at the performance of the military was also underlined by indications of plans to train up locals to act as defense volunteers to replace the regular troops.

At the same time, the capabilities of the insurgents look set to increase, given the evidence of weapons stockpiling highlighted by Retired Army Gen. Kitti Rattanachaya. Speaking to Western journalists he estimated over 7,000 guns had been amassed since the beginning of the troubles, which themselves began with the attack in January 2004 on an army case where 400 weapons were stolen. A June 21 report in The Nation also detailed how a local Muslim official was arrested after having run a checkpoint. In his pickup truck and his house a total of 880kg of highly concentrated fertilizer, of the type that can be used to make bombs, was found and confiscated. The target of the planned bombing from these materials was to be a national convention of municipal officials in Songkhla [].

One interesting detail on strategy was revealed by the paper. Prime Minister Shinawatra’s recent trip to Yala was connected with a report by a senior special branch officer concerning a Jihad plan drawn up by a separatist group, the Pattani Malayu Club, which intended to coordinate a series of bombings in the three southern provinces. From a branch office in Malaysia the Club has been organizing young Thai workers and students to carry out attacks, with a particular emphasis on the targeting of teachers. The aim is to prevent students from completing high school, limit their prospects for employment and ensure disaffection from the system, thus securing a new generation of mujahideen fighters. The most recent school casualty was the director of a school in Pattani’s Yaring district, ambushed and shot on July 20. The same day a home-made bomb failed to detonate in time against a group of teachers in Narathiwat province [].

Army Gen. Kitti Rattanachaya’s comments also stuck a sobering note, that there was “no light at the end of the tunnel” and that “the situation is getting worse”, adding in a report published by Associated Press that, in effect, “the separatist movement has complete control of the people. Only the land belongs to us, but the people belong to the movement, 100 percent.”