Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Southern Thailand: Moving towards Political Solutions?


Bangkok/Brussels, 8 December 2009: If the Thai government is serious about curbing the deadly southern insurgency, it needs to pursue political solutions, including lifting draconian laws, exploring new governance arrangements and engaging in dialogues with Malay Muslim militants.

Southern Thailand: Moving towards Political Solutions?* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, says Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has failed to make any significant progress in tackling the southern insurgency that has claimed more than 3,900 lives in the last six years. Nearly a year after he pledged on coming into office to shift the focus from a security-oriented approach to development and justice, violence has intensified, harsh laws remain in force, and civilian militias are exacerbating Buddhist-Muslim tensions.

“It is now time to pursue political solutions”, says Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, Crisis Group’s Thailand Analyst. “The government needs to think seriously about new governance structures for the South and review its stance of rejecting negotiations with insurgents”.

The problem is lack of political will. Abhisit’s fragile coalition government has been constantly challenged by supporters of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a September 2006 coup. It needs the support of the military to suppress anti-government protestors and the top brass has hindered major policy changes towards the South. The armed forces have obstructed efforts to assert civilian control by allowing the civilian-led Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre to operate independently from the military. The army also opposes the lifting of martial law and emergency decree in force in the three conflict-wracked provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

The government’s shift towards a greater emphasis on development, if done without effective oversight and transparent management, could encourage corruption. The large budgets for the South – 109 billion baht ($3.2 billion) since 2004 – could be inadvertently obstructing a solution to the conflict because they have become a lucrative source of income for some officials. Corruption would erode the government’s legitimacy, which is already facing an uphill struggle to gain the trust of Malay Muslims. Moreover, economic stimulus programs are unlikely to address the core grievances of the insurgents, which are political.

Despite pledges for justice, no security forces involved in past abuses have faced criminal prosecution. The government has further eroded its credibility by failing to arrest suspected perpetrators of the 8 June attack on the Al-Furqan mosque, in which ten Muslims were shot dead. Police investigations suggest they are Buddhists, some of whom are members of state-sponsored militias. The government also dismissed any proposal to set up new administrative arrangements in the Deep South, claiming it would be a first step towards independence.

“There are plenty of ideas about political solutions compatible with a Thai unitary state that should be more openly discussed”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “If the government is serious about curbing the insurgency, it has to change course. This new direction could include dialogue with insurgent representatives”.

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