Wednesday, March 9, 2016

THAILAND Bombs, bullets fly as ‘peace’ message fails to reach South

Insurgent attacks this past weekend have prompted speculation galore on why violence in the far South has spiked after months of relative calm. Some officials believe insurgents carried out the region-wide attacks in retaliation for a February 10 assault by security forces on a small base camp hidden in the mangroves of Pattani's Nong Chik district.

It remains unclear why the operation was deemed a "success" when five militants deployed at the camp succeeded in escaping after a brief gunfight with the security officials.

Gas cylinders and bomb making materials were seized, though, and one local resident detained for questioning.

Improvised explosive devices are locally made and the material to make them is legally available in the region. But the fact that authorities were able to identify the location of this small camp suggests that intelligence on the ground has improved over the year. Tracking down the militants, however, is another matter. They are proving to be as elusive and slippery as ever, thanks in part to the strong support they enjoy among local residents.

Some officials also suggested that the spike in violence was a means for insurgents to commemorate fallen comrades, namely the 16 militants who walked into a hail of gunfire at a marine base camp in Narathiwat's Bacho district on February 13 three years ago.

That operation was led by well-known militant Mahroso Jantarawadee, who according to separatist sources ignored warnings from his superiors about the danger of attacking a base where reinforcements were close by.

Last Friday night, four blasts shook Narathiwat's Bacho district, while a petrol station in Pattani's Nong Chik district was set on fire. The same evening saw a group of assailants in Pattani's Muang district spray bullets at a police-military checkpoint in Tambon Lulor.

Earlier that day, two soldiers were killed and five injured when a roadside bomb exploded in Yala's Krong Pinang district. It was aimed at a seven-strong foot patrol passing through the hilly Ban Sa-ae village. A 100-metre-long detonating wire was found bundled up under a nearby tree.

More deadly violence followed on the same morning when a resident of Tambon Tam Masu in Pattani's Yaring district was found shot in the head on a well-travelled road. Locals said he had a good working relationship with security officials in the area.

Elsewhere, an arson attack was carried out at the Ban Khai School in Pattani's Nong Chik district at about 4am on Friday morning. It was the first incident of what was to become a very long day for local authorities.

Perhaps the most disturbing attack over the weekend was the point-blank shooting death of a cargo truck driver, whose two colleagues were spared. Initial reports said the victim was singled out because he was not able to speak Malay.

A Barisan Revolusi National source insisted that the movement had no policy of singling out innocent people but admitted that "collateral damage" was still a problem. The murder of the truck driver in Narathiwat's Rangae was perhaps a one-off incident in which emotion got the better of the assailant.

Cargo trucks are part of the economic lifeline on which the local residents, regardless of race and religion, depend for their livelihood. Hence, said the BRN source, it is a policy that this lifeline goes untouched.

The same policy applies to businesses such as rubber factories and auto showrooms, though these have been caught in the crossfire as part of retaliatory actions against Thai security officials accused by the militants of grossly abusing their power.

Separatist sources say militants have been told to scale back their campaign of violence over the last 12 months unless the situation calls for retaliation - which the militants are encouraged to do on a massive scale.

Militant attacks should be carried out on "legitimate targets" (security officials) with consideration given to "collateral damage" (to civilians). The aim should be to demoralise government troops, as well as discredit the security apparatus and associated measures such as the Thung Yang Daeng Model - an attempt to outsource security to local village officials.

The raid at the mangrove camp on Wednesday last week was in line with these unofficial rules of engagement and did not merit retaliation. Neither did the third anniversary of Mahroso's death, the BRN sources said.

What set off the spate of violence at the weekend was the February 6 shooting death of a community leader in Tambon Yupo in Yala's Muang district. One local resident said authorities had accused the victim of turning a blind eye to insurgent activity in his area, particularly the December 13 killing of a Paramilitary Ranger who was described by government and separatist sources as a "high value" target because of his local intelligence work.

The Ranger was on leave visiting the grave of his recently deceased mother when he was killed by a bomb buried at the site. His father was injured by the blast.

BRN sources suspected that the community leader from Tambon Yupo accused of turning a blind eye to the attackers had been killed by a pro-government death squad.

Despite the upsurge of violence, the Thai government is determined to show that it is making progress on its "Track I" peace negotiations with a group of six longstanding separatist organisations who call themselves MARA Patani.

Bangkok is set to push for the implementation of a "safety zone" - a fancy term for "ceasefire".

The designated Malaysian facilitator of the peace talks, Dato Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim, and MARA Patani representative Awang Jabat, have been invited to speak at a conference in Pattani later this month. Sources in the Thai government said the idea is to assure members of MARA Patani that they have immunity from prosecution or other government action.

But such display of half-baked openness may not be enough, as men like Awang Jabat have no legal charges pending against them.

The umbrella organisation is likely to make immunity one of its demands before the dialogue process becomes official negotiation between the two sides.

The real challenge at this informal stage of negotiations is to demonstrate that MARA Patani has influence over the insurgents who are actually doing the fighting.

The BRN, the group that controls the vast majority of militants, has repeatedly declined to take part in the current peace initiative.

The spike in violence over this past week is a reminder that nothing comes easy for this historically contested region, where militants, security officials and other stakeholders play for keeps.

Don Pathan is an independent consultant based in southern Thailand. He is also a founding member of the Patani Forum



  1. Sometime few educational blogs become very helpful while getting relevant and new information related to your targeted area. As I found this blog and appreciate the information delivered to my database.

  2. Somewhere the content of the blog surrounded by little arguments. Yes it is healthy for readers. They can include this kind of language in their writing skill as well as while group discussion in college.
    บา คา ร่า