The August bombings in seven of Thailand's tourist towns portend a wider conflict, while the peace dialogue process has lost momentum. To get back on track, fragmented militants must end doubtful hopes of victory through violence, and the government must commit to a comprehensive settlement, including decentralisation and respect for the deep south’s Malay-Muslim identity.
Originally published in The New York Times
In southern insurgency, seven soldiers injured in two coordinated bomb attacks in Narathiwat’s Tak Bai district 2 June. In Pattani, two motorcycle-borne gunmen killed assistant village headman in Yarang district 15 June; gunmen opened fire on group of Buddhist teenagers in Yaring district 17 June, killing two; six soldiers killed by IED attack on their vehicle 19 June; Islamic school teacher shot dead in Nong Chik district 20 June; IED attack in Sungai Kolol, Narathiwat, wounded twelve soldiers and two civilians, including four-year-old girl 23 June. Army chief General Chalermchai Sithisart visited border with Malaysia 4 June, said increased border patrols since May aimed to suppress smuggling and border crossing by Islamist insurgents. Govt gathered almost 100,000 public responses to four questions posed by PM Prayuth during his late May weekly national television broadcast, in which he questioned value of elections; many politicians called questions, which included “Do you think the next election will result in a government with good governance?” and “if conflict re-emerges, who will solve it and by what means?”, a bid to prolong NCPO’s hold on power. NCPO’s hand-picked legislature National Legislative Assembly moved ahead with plans to reset political system and institutions, approving bills to reconstitute Election Commission, National Human Rights Commission and Office of the Ombudsman with regime appointees and to establish national strategy commission to draft twenty-year strategy that elected govts will be required to implement. Police 15 June arrested retired electrical engineer who reportedly confessed to 22 May hospital bombing, bombings on 5 April and 15 May and three other bombings going back to 2007; suspect reportedly supporter of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and opponent of military rule.
Thailand’s military regime promised a return to democracy, but keeps prolonging its power by delaying general elections. Beyond a new constitution, Thailand needs a new social contract to resolve the crippling struggle between elected politicians and an unelected establishment that includes the army, bureaucracy and palace.
The insurgency that has plagued southern Thailand for more than a decade continues to fester. Peace talks have collapsed and rifts between the government and separatists remain deep. Resolving the conflict requires Bangkok to accept pluralism and decentralisation, and rebels to articulate their goals and commit to a dialogue process.
Martial law has brought calm but not peace to Thailand’s febrile politics. The military regime’s stifling of dissent precludes a frank dialogue on the kingdom’s future and could lead to greater turmoil than that which brought about the May 2014 coup.
After a decade of violence, the capabilities of Malay-Muslim insurgents in Thailand’s Deep South are outpacing the counter-measures of successive governments in Bangkok that have been mired in complacency and protracted national-level political disputes.
The violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier this year have challenged the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to turn its rhetoric into action, but to achieve peace and security more robust diplomacy is required to end a still unresolved conflict.
[The Barisan Revolusi Nasional sees its struggle as] nationalist and anti-colonial. Subordinating their struggle to a forlorn agenda imposed by outsiders would be counter-productive, if not suicidal.
The militants [of the National Revolutionary Front] continue to demonstrate that they have the capabilities to launch attacks across the region despite of the security measures by the Thai state.
[The main southern Thai insurgent group BRN] perceive the current (peace) process as one driven by Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur for their own interests.
The bombings [in Thailand] may have been intended to compel the military government to reconsider its approach to the conflict in the deep south.
Two years of military rule haven't really resolved any of the fundamental problems [in Thailand] ... and the constitution won't succeed in doing that either. The day of reckoning is just being delayed.
Crisis Group’s second update to our Watch List 2017 includes entries on Nigeria, Qatar, Thailand and Venezuela. These early-warning publications identify conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
Originally published in Bangkok Post
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review
Originally published in The Interpreter