Wednesday, February 24, 2010
With Thailand Bombings on the Rise, the GT200 Detector Is Under Scrutiny
Three attacks follow weeks of debate by government officials, rights groups, military officials and the scientific community over the effectiveness of the British-made GT200 device.
More violence this week in Thailand's restive southern provinces has intensified the controversy in the country over a bomb detector that critics call ineffective. Seven soldiers were injured Tuesday in two bombings, one involving a unit protecting teachers, the other targeting a truck on patrol. These attacks followed a roadside bomb blast Monday that wounded two soldiers.
The attacks in a region with a long-running Muslim insurgency follow weeks of debate by government officials, human rights groups, army brass and scientific experts over the effectiveness of the British-made GT200 wand after a BBC expose last month found it wanting. The controversy has left many Muslims in this hard-hit area wondering whether justice was miscarried -- the device's findings have prompted hundreds of detentions over the last three years -- even as some Buddhists worry that the lack of a reliable detector could leave them vulnerable.
Thousands of people have been killed by bombs, shootings and knife attacks in recent years in three primarily Muslim provinces in the south that were once part of an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate. In 1902, the area was annexed by majority Buddhist Thailand and tensions have continued since. In its January report, the BBC found that some bomb-detection devices, including the GT200 made by Britain's Global Technical Ltd., weren't much more effective than guesswork. An explosives expert who disassembled the GT200 said it contained little more than an "empty plastic case" lined with a bit of cheap circuitry of the sort used by retailers to deter shoplifting.
After the report aired, Britain banned the export to Iraq and Afghanistan of the ADE651, a similar device that works on the same principle, which the U.S. military had already concluded was unreliable. British authorities arrested the president of that company, and the Iraqi government has launched its own investigation.
Even as foreign governments condemn such devices, the Thai military -- which spent more than $20 million on them and has deployed them widely in southern Thailand since 2007 -- defends their use. It has done so despite a Thai government test that found they failed 16 of 20 times.
Another concern is that continued use of the device risks further injustice in a part of the country that is already deeply suspicious of government rule. 500 people have been arrested or detained based on evidence linked to the GT200. For many Muslims in southern Thailand, the device has become a
symbol of injustice.