Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Thailand’s Restive South Death Toll now 4,000 'Gentleman's agreement' in the South derailed by target killings
After nearly six years of fighting and more than 4,000 deaths, security units and local insurgent cells in the deep South have learned how to establish some sort of communication.
Although this line of communication is not perfect - and in no way does it constitute a formal "negotiation" process - local insurgent leaders and government military commanders have at times managed to find common ground on issues such as rules of engagement and what constitutes a "legitimate" target.
Naturally, such agreements are kept at the local level and the effects often go undetected by the top brass or policy-makers in Bangkok, whose bird's eye view of the conflict means they are blind to small but important developments on the ground.
Unlike the previous generations of insurgents - those long-standing separatist movements who had a clear definition as to what constituted a legitimate target - the structure of today's insurgency is too decentralised. Because the decisions to attack particular targets rests with the local cell commanders, it also makes sense that the terms of engagement should also be made at this level.
In Banang Sata district of Yala, such an agreement was reached some time ago. There were to be no assassinations of suspected insurgents or sympathisers, and in return soft targets such as government officials and public school teachers would be off limits for the insurgents. Roadside ambushes and gunfights between insurgents and the security forces would still constitute fair play, however.
But what happens when the ground rules are broken?
In a recent interview, a source in the Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-C) - one of the separatist movements with strong links to the militants on the ground - pointed to last week's shooting death of Dora-mae Da-che, 51, also known as Ustaz Mae, in Banang Sata. The source insisted that Mae's killing was a violation of the "gentlemen's agreement".
The nature of Mae's relations with the insurgents, locally known as juwae, was not revealed. But according to the source, he was a big enough fish to be targeted by a pro-government death squad - and big enough for the juwae to get all worked up about.
Informed sources say the "gentleman's agreement" between a local militant cell and the security forces states that non-security government officials, such as school teachers, would not be attacked as long as the fight is fair - meaning no target killing of militant suspects or sympathisers.
Within two days of Mae's death, at Yala's Old Market, there was a grenade attack against a military vehicle passing by. Yala's governor, Grisada Boonrach, said footage from a closed circuit camera revealed two men on a motorbike tossing a hand-grenade at the military vehicle, but the device rebounded and exploded in the middle of the road, injuring 23 people. At least 13 were admitted to a local hospital for treatment.
This past Saturday, more than 20 people were injured in simultaneous bomb attacks on two eateries in the heart of Yala's Muang district.
A culprit on a motorbike tossed a bomb hidden inside a metal box into a Korean-style barbecue restaurant, forcing customers to run for cover. But the bomb didn't go off until three minutes later. The shrapnel hit a young man who was cruising by on his motorbike.
Almost at the same time, in another part of town, another homemade bomb was tossed into a rice porridge eatery, known locally as the Khaotom Khon Chon, injuring at least 20 people. In this incident, the bomb went off within seconds of hitting the ground.
One senior official at the scene said that both bombs were set off by timing devices, but he could not explain the detonation delay for the first bomb.
Few people want to see the tit-for-tat nature of these violent incidents. An example was the shooting death of a school teacher in Khok Po district on June 4, just four days after Sulaiman Naesa, 30, a suspected insurgent, was found dead in his detention cell at the Fourth Army's Forward Command in Pattani. Photographs leaked to the public showed Sulaiman hanging from a noose, but his feet were touching the floor. There were several bruises on his body.
According to sources in the Patani Malay exiled community, Ustaz Mae's death has not only set off a storm of retaliation, it also threatens to stall a peace attempt the current government has been carrying out.
According to separatist sources on the ground and in exile, the militants have yet to endorse the secret peace process, pointing to a lack of unity among their ranks. This is not to mention a similar situation within the Thai government on the very idea of talking to the enemy.
The juwae has also imposed conditions, namely the arrest of the six gunmen behind the June 8, 2009 massacre at a mosque in the village of Ai Bayae in Narathiwat province.
Without the endorsement of the militants on the ground, it will be hard for exiled separatist leaders, who have been holding secret meetings with Thai representatives, to move the peace process forward. And incidents such as the assassination of Ustaz Mae will just make it harder to do so. The Nation, Bangkok