Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The younger generation of Thailand’s southern separatists will be harder to pacify

Given Thailand's law enforcement track record and the current controversy over the arrest of suspects in the ongoing troubles in the deep South - especially if the suspect happens to be one of the security forces' own - the recent release of Suthirak Kongsuwan did not come as a big surprise.

part in the June 8, 2009 violence at Narathiwat's Ai Bayae village mosque, in which 10 people were killed and 12 others were wounded. An 11th victim died the following day.

In the past, immediately after certain incidents in the three southernmost provinces, local villagers, women and children especially, would block roads and carry placards condemning the authorities for alleged crimes ranging from target killings to the abduction of Malay Muslim residents. Local men did this once in late 2004 at Tak Bai, but that protest ended with the deaths of more than 80 when the security authorities piled them, one on top of another, in the back of military trucks.

The now infamous Tak Bai incident drove one of the biggest wedges between the Thai state and the Malay Muslims of the South, and reinforced the long-standing conviction among the Malays that they are a second-class people in this largely Buddhist country.The absence of any progress in the investigation into what happened at Ai Bayae has reinforced the same notion that access to real justice is still a pipe dream for the people here.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has vowed that a thorough investigation of the incident will be carried out. He also stated that he doesn't think the killings were the work of Malay Muslim insurgents.

While this may be something the prime minister believes, others in authority may not share his view. Local Malay Muslims, however, are convinced the murders were not the work of the juwae, the shadowy network of southern militants, whose operatives mingle among the local people.

Unlike previous generations of southern Malay separatists, the juwae do not have to give up the life they know. One minute they are feeding their chickens, the next they are setting off roadside bombs or ambushing security units patrolling through their villages.
Naturally the authorities - even those with pro-government death squad written all over them - tend to blame the juwae for just about every violent incident in the South.

At a recent function organised by Deep South Watch, a research unit at the Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani, participants, who were all Muslim clerics, expressed grave concern about the use of the insurgents' so-called "blacklist". Many people in the three southernmost provinces believe that they are on such a list, and many who are said to be on it have either disappeared or been shot dead, assassination style.

It is not clear how an individual gets to be on the list, but sources say that information comes from the mouths of arrested, suspected insurgents, many of whom are said to have been coerced into giving names in order to avoid torture.

Some local imams have been called in to help the authorities by persuading insurgent suspects to recant the oath of silence they took during their recruitment and indoctrination process into the juwae. Few will admit publicly to having done this, as it would surely put them on the insurgents' blacklist.

Every security agency has its own list of good guys and bad guys, of course. Some say the supposed list is the authority's way of coercing locals into spying for them. Others accuse rogue security units of using it to form a kind of hit list of people they believe to be part of the juwae network that stretches across the Malay-speaking three southernmost provinces. It is a tactic that can be resorted to when the authorities are unable to come up with solid evidence to get a conviction.

However, the authorities have generally found that it is very difficult to get cooperation from local residents, mainly because of the historical mistrust on the part of the Malays in the deep South for the Thai state apparatus.

Cases such as Tak Bai, Ai Bayae and the beating to death of Imam Yapa Kaseng by a group of soldiers, not to mention the treatment of hundreds of suspects lingering in Thai jails on questionable charges, reinforce this traditional animosity. According to many officials and observers here, this growing distrust is pushing more and more young men to take up arms against the state.

"Regardless of rhetoric given by Prime Minister Abhisit and senior military officers, nothing has been done to end a rouge system that creates and condones abusive counterinsurgency operations in the south," said Sunai Phasuk, Thailand senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Older members of the long-standing separatist groups interviewed by The Nation say they are concerned at the growing tendency among the younger generation of separatists to opt for violence as a way to achieve their aims, rather than explore other options.

Many of the suspected juwae say they have been tortured and beaten, or have witnessed their friends receiving similar treatment. Thus, they make the decision to "go to the woods", said one older separatist member.

"The problem with this is that the deeper into the woods they go - meaning the angrier and more violent they become - the harder it will be for the elders to convince them that there is an end game to this conflict and that they should give peace a chance," he added.

One thing that is common in conflicts around the world is that the younger the rebels, the more uncompromising they become. The Nation, Bangkok

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