March 15, 2012
Responding to a string of deadly incidents in the far south, Thailand's cabinet on Tuesday (March 13th) extended the state of emergency there for a further three months.
The move came only days after Deputy Prime Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa said the measures could be eased if insurgent violence is seen to be waning in the troubled provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala.
Those hopes now appear to have been put off. The emergency degree has now been extended until June 19th, at which point the authorities will re-evaluate the situation, Yutthasak said.
"Although the number of incidents has dropped, the level of violence remains high," The Nation quoted him as saying.
Tipping the scales in favour of the extension was a March 7th roadside bomb blast that killed four soldiers as they returned from escorting Buddhist worshippers during a candlelight procession on Makha Bucha day.
Other recent incidents have targeted civilians as well as security personnel. On Sunday, gunmen in a sedan opened fire on local official Doloh Dengla, 50, as he chatted outside his home with his wife and relatives. The day before, 29-year-old As-ha Tayeh was shot dead by suspected insurgents as he stopped to buy sheets of rubber from a roadside vendor.
Despite the continuing bloodshed, Yutthasak appeared hopeful this week that progress is being made. Some indications, he said, suggest that insurgents from the Barisan Revolusi National separatist group are seeking to begin dialogue with the government.
"I wouldn't call it negotiations. The government doesn't negotiate with insurgents, or we would be legitimising their organisation," The Bangkok Post quoted him as saying.
However, he added, Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre Secretary-General Thawee Sodsong would meet with the separatists to hear what they have to say.
Government and police sources believe at least some of the violence is linked to local smugglers who, they say, may be triggering violence in order to scuttle efforts to clamp down on their trade.
"It is quite normal to see groups of people with shared interests operating in a trouble-plagued area," the Post quoted the Thai military's Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimapakorn as saying.
"The insurgents are weakening but they are not quitting. They continue to seek sympathisers --those who are mistreated or even drug traffickers," Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said as he and Yutthasak visited Pattani on Wednesday.
Near-daily bombings and shootings have plagued the region since 2004, when insurgents stepped up their campaign in the predominantly Malay Muslim parts of the far south. Eight years of violence have cost residents dearly as local businesses feel the economic impact, said a recent report by the International Islamic News Agency.
In February, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak condemned the insurgents and pledged to help in resolving the crisis.
"There is a need to find a long-term and durable peaceful solution in the south (of Thailand)," Najib said during a visit by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
"People in the south must not seek a separate state. They must reject violence and extremism," Najib added.