January 26, 2012
Violence perpetrated by insurgents in Thailand's restive south has increased in recent weeks, with multiple attacks against civilians and military outposts taking place since September.
The most recent attacks occurred over Lunar New Year weekend, when three people were shot dead in the southernmost district of Yala and six soldiers were wounded by a bomb blast at a military outpost in nearby Pattani.
The incidents, both of which took place Sunday (January 21st) night, are thought to be the work of the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) separatist movement. The movement has around 500 members in southern Thailand, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism's centre at the University of Maryland.
Killing has become commonplace in Thailand's three southernmost border provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. Insurgent groups have claimed nearly 5,000 lives since 2004, according to the independent group Deep South Watch, which monitors regional violence.
Earlier this month, Thai academics, experts and government officials gathered at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Bangkok to discuss the security challenge and the way forward.
Major General Acra Tiparjo, deputy director of the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC) in Region 4, told participants that religious and cultural differences in the region are exacerbated by a deliberate campaign of misinformation that stokes conflict and undermines local authorities.
While Thailand as a whole is predominantly Buddhist, Muslims make up the majority of the population in the southernmost provinces. Religious, racial, and linguistic differences between the minority Malay Muslims and majority Buddhists have fostered grievances and provided fodder for extremists, analysts say.
"Giving false information and smearing authorities is part of their psychological war to brainwash people," Tiparjo said at the panel. He oversees security in the region's southern provinces.
But some say Thai authorities – preoccupied in recent months with the devastation wrought by the country's worst flooding in decades – have not been able to respond to local concerns with sound public policy.
Thai leaders must acknowledge that residents of the south embrace an entirely different set of historical and cultural narratives than those of the central state, said Pattani Forum journalist Ekkarin Tuansiri.
Failure to do so will hamper resolution of the conflict, he said, adding that current policies are doing little to improve quality of life in the area.
Officials, however, remain optimistic about the central government's strategy.
Ruling party MP Viroon Phuensaen is a member of a new committee set up in September by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Its mandate is to maintain security in the south.
Yingluck and her Pheu Thai party want local citizens "to govern themselves in co-operation with the Thai state", he said.
The restive south is currently administered by the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC), a special government unit. Under the direct supervision of the prime minister, the unit is charged with protecting rights and liberties, as well as offering assistance and rehabilitation for those affected by unrest, according to the Government Public Relations Department.