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Behind the Insurgent Attack in Southern Thailand
Behind the Insurgent Attack in Southern Thailand
Table of Contents
  1. Map of Thailand
Thai EOD personnel inspect the site of a bomb attack in Thailand's troubled southern province of Pattani, on 5 July 2016. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthamon
Briefing 148 / Asia

Proses Dialog Thailand Selatan: Tiada Daya Gerak

Gambaran Keseluruhan

Proses dialog damai antara kerajaan tentera Thai dan beberapa orang pemimpin pemisah Melayu Muslim yang berada di luar negara telah menemui jalan buntu. Pengeboman serentak yang berlaku pada bulan Ogos yang lalu di beberapa tempat peranginan yang terletak di luar wilayah konflik selama ini menyerupai pengeboman yang dilakukan oleh kumpulan pemisah. Pada masa yang sama, keadaan ini juga menunjukkan bahawa pendekatan kerajaan untuk menahan pemberontakan tidak berhasil. Suruhanjaya Negara untuk Kedamaian dan Ketertiban (National Council for Peace and Order, diringkaskan sebagai NCPO), yang merampas kuasa melalui kudeta pada tahun 2014, menyatakan sokongannya terhadap dialog damai untuk mengakhiri pemberontakan. Tetapi NCPO juga mengelakkan sebarang  komitmen yang serius, dan Perdana Menteri sendiri sering mempersoalkan keberhasilan proses dialog tersebut. Kumpulan pemberontak utama telah menolak proses dialog. Sejauh mana organisasi payung yang didirikan pada tahun 2015 untuk tujuan perundingan dapat mengawal pejuang di lapangan adalah tidak jelas. Pengagihan kuasa dalam sistem politik yang menghormati jati diri dan hasrat orang Melayu-Muslim mungkin dapat menyelesaikan konflik ini, sekali gus dapat mengekalkan kesatuan negara. Namun begitu proses damai semakin mendekati jalan buntu, kerana kedua-dua pihak, iaitu kerajaan dan kumpulan bersenjata, lebih menggemari permusuhan daripada bertolak-ansur. Seharusnya, pengeboman yang berlaku di wilayah-wilayah selatan bahagian atas harus ditasfsirkan oleh kerajaan sebagai ingatan supaya berdialog dan mencari jalan penyelesaian terhadap masalah konflik secara menyeluruh.   

Sejak rampasan kuasa, NCPO sibuk dengan memerintah negara yang berpecah-belah dalam politik, dan ketidakpastian sedang menjelma, menjelang titik akhir pemerintahan Baginda Raja Bhumibol Adulyadej selama tujuh dekad ini. Pihak tentera pernah menentang proses dialog damai di bawah kerajaan bekas Perdana Menteri yingluck Shinawatra pada tahun 2013. Tetapi NCPO telah memulakan proses dialog semula, dan meminta Malaysia supaya menjadi fasilitator. Walau bagaimanapun, nampaknya NCPO juga terhimpit dengan dilemanya. Mereka perlu menunjukkan kepada masyarakat tempatan dan antarabangsa bahawa mereka sedang melakukan sesuatu yang benar. Tetapi mereka juga dihantui ketakutan bahawa  proses dialog akan memberikan legitimasi kepada kumpulan pemisah, dan membuka jalan untuk campur tangan daripada masyarakat antarabangsa, yang akhirnya akan menyebabkan pemisahakn negara. 

Pada bulan Mac 2016, setelah dua pertemuan penuh dan tiga pertemuan teknikal, tim dialog pihak NCPO dan Mara Patani - Majlis Syura Patani, organisasi payung yang ditubuhkan pada 2015 untuk bernegosiasi dengan Bangkok - telah mencapai persetujuan awal tentang Kerangka Rujukan (Terms of Reference, ToR) yang terdiri daripada 8 perkara. Persetujuan ini dijangka membuka laluan bagi pertemuan secara rasmi. Namun pada bulan yang berikut, tentera tiba-tiba melucutkan Setiausaha Tim Dialog Thai dari jawatannya, tokoh yang selama ini bekerja keras untuk mencapai persetujuan mengenai ToR. Dalam pertemuan pada 27 April di Kuala Lumpur, pihak delegasi Thai enggan menandatangani ToR dengan alasan bahawa pihaknya perlu menyemak dokumen tersebut, seta mempersoalkan pendirian Mara mengenai keterlibatannya dalam perbincangan secara rasmi. Walaupun pertemuan selanjutnya dijadualkan pada 2 September, proses dialog masih berada pada tahap permulaan awal yang tidak rasmi.  

Berbanding dengan usaha untuk mencari penyelesaian dengan para pemimpin kumpulan bersenjata di luar negeri, NCPO lebih menggemari pendekatan meyakinkan para militan di lapangan supaya menyerah diri. NCPO juga telah menyekat kegiatan politik di seluruh negara, menggantungkan pilihan raya dan mengehadkan kebebasan warga sivil sebagai usaha membina asas pemerintahan jangka panjang setelah pilihan raya yang dijadualkan pada akhir tahun 2017. Desakan NCPO supaya pemberontak harus menghentikan keganasan, dan perlu bekerja sama untuk kedamaian tidak bermakna, kerana NCPO sendiri tidak membenarkan sebarang aktiviti dalam bidang politik. Dengan masyarakat sivil di wilayah konflik semakin tertekan oleh pihak pemerintah, harapan bagi lahirnya tekanan dari masyarakat supaya proses dialog yang sejati diadakan menjadi semakin nipis.    

Perbincangan serius juga terhalang oleh kurangnya kesatuan dan persaingan merebut kuasa dalam tentera. Penyokong proses dialog menegaskan bahawa sekiranya proses ini berjalan dengan baik, kumpulan-kumpulan bersenjata yang lain juga akan menyertai proses ini. Manakala ramai pemerhati tidak yakin sama ada Mara Patani dapat bersuara bagi pihak kebanyakan pejuang di lapangan. Beberapa orang anggota kumpulan bersenjata utama, Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani, BRN, menduduki posisi sebagai pemimpin dalam Mara Patani, tetapi kedudukan mereka tidak disahkan oleh pucuk pimpinan kumpulan tersebut. BRN telah mempertikaikan keikhlasan pihak NCPO, dan menolak dengan tegas sebarang perbincangan tanpa pemerhati asing. Syarat ini menambahkan ketakutan pihak kerajaan bahawa proses ini akan dibawa ke masyarakat antarabangsa. Setakat ini tiada sebarang tanda yang menunjukkan bahawa Islamic State (IS) atau penyokong ideologi jihad sejagat mempengaruhi para militan Melayu yang bersifat etno-nasionalis.

Perpecahan serta terbatasnya kemampuan tentu sekali merupakan cabaran yang besar, tetapi cabaran yang lebih besar ialah kurangnya tekad dalam berunding untuk mencari penyelesaian. Nampaknya NCPO hanya berpuas hati dengan ‘tiruan’ proses dialog, dan menentang sebarang penyelesaian yang melibatkan pengagihan kuasa politik. BRN juga tidak pernah maju ke pentas politik yang dapat menjadi asas untuk perbincangan. Mara Patani masih belum menunjukkan kemamuan dalam mengawal keadaan di lapangan. Keadaan jalan buntu ini belum cukup genting sehingga dapat menggesa semua pihak supaya mencari jalan penyelesaian melalui perundingan dengan serius. Walau bagaimanapun, pengeboman yang berlaku pada 11 dan 12 Agus yang lau jelas menunjukkan kemampuan para militan dalam menyebabkan kerugian yang lebih besar terhadap nyawa dan harta. Kerajaan harus meneydari ancaman ini, dan perlu mempertimbangkan pendekatannya terhadap dialog damai. Para militan juga wajar menyedari bahawa peluasan wilayah konflik dan serangan terhadap pusat peranginan akan membawa kepada tindak balas ketenteraan yang lebih keras dari Bangkok, dan mereka akan menjadi sasaran kutukan keras daripada masyarakat antarabangsa.

Members of a bomb squad inspect the site of an attack by suspected Muslim militants in Yala province on 6 November 2019. AFP/Tuwaedaniya Meringing
Q&A / Asia

Behind the Insurgent Attack in Southern Thailand

On 5 November, insurgents in southern Thailand staged their deadliest attack in years, killing fifteen people. Crisis Group’s South East Asia Senior Analyst, Matt Wheeler, explains what happened and what it means for the stagnant peace-dialogue process.

What happened, and why is it significant?

On the night of 5 November, at least twenty gunmen attacked a security checkpoint in Lam Phaya sub-district in Yala, Thailand’s southernmost province, killing fifteen people and wounding four others. Many of those killed were Village Defence Volunteers, civilians whom the interior ministry pays to perform part-time security duties in villages across the insurgency-plagued region. Also among the victims were a former sub-district chief, a police adviser to the defence volunteers, the sub-district physician and civilian bystanders; the dead include both Muslims and Buddhists. Militants bombed a nearby power pylon, felled trees and scattered nails to delay security forces and rescuers responding to the attack. The assailants fled, taking with them small arms captured from the victims.

Ethnic Malay Muslim militants have been fighting the state for decades in the Muslim-majority south of Thailand, which otherwise is mostly Buddhist.

Ethnic Malay Muslim militants have been fighting the state for decades in the Muslim-majority south of Thailand, which otherwise is mostly Buddhist. The militants seek independence and an end to what they see as Thai colonialism. Their insurgency is rooted in ethnic Malay nationalist resistance to Thai rule that followed the extension of Siamese sovereignty over the Patani sultanate at the beginning of the twentieth century. Violence has largely been confined to the country’s three southernmost provinces, Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, as well as the four south-eastern districts of Songkhla province. Muslims account for roughly 85 per cent of the population in these areas. The insurgent movement is distinguished by its secrecy and reluctance to assert an organisational identity. Insurgents tend to identify simply as juwae (fighters) rather than as members of a particular militant group. It remains a parochial nationalist insurgency – distinct from transnational jihadist movements – in which Islam is foremost a marker of Malay cultural identity.

The 5 November attack is remarkable for two reasons. First, it was the deadliest since late 2001, when the longstanding insurgency reignited after a lull in the 1990s. Although insurgent ambushes, bombings and assassinations have claimed more than 7,000 lives since then, militants have never before killed so many in a single raid. Secondly, it took place amid a decline in the pace and intensity of militant violence over the past several years. From a high of 892 fatalities in 2007, the death toll fell to 218 in 2018, the lowest since 2004. It remains to be seen whether the 5 November attack was an aberration or sign of renewed insurgent potency.

What signal are militants sending with this attack?

Any effort to assign particular motives to the Lam Phaya attackers is speculative at this stage. The strongest insurgent group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu-Patani (Patani Malay National Revolutionary Front, or BRN) is highly secretive and rarely accessible to the media. It never claims responsibility for its actions. The attack may best be understood as a demonstration by militants of their ability to conduct operations and inflict losses, in spite of the decline in violence in recent years. It also highlights that, whatever the government may say, the insurgent campaign is far from over. Apart from the high death toll, the raid was wholly typical of attacks that have been routine in the region since 2004: coordinated use of small arms and improvised explosive devices; diversionary attacks; theft of weapons; and hit-and-run tactics.

A more immediate possible motive may be retribution for the 25 August death in army custody of an insurgent suspect, Abdulloh Isomuso. Abdulloh was detained for interrogation on 20 July and fell into a coma the following day. The case is emblematic of the persistent human rights abuses that feed Malay Muslim grievances and the failure of authorities to hold officials to account.

Another possibility is that militants are seeking leverage in advance of prospective dialogue with Thai authorities. BRN would not want to enter talks with the government perceiving it as a spent force.

What is the state of play in the peace-dialogue process?

The official peace-dialogue process that brings together the Thai government and the Patani Consultative Council (Majlis Syura Patani, better known as MARA Patani), an umbrella group of Malay nationalist organisations in exile, is moribund. Talks have been stalled since April 2018, and MARA Patani formally suspended its participation in February 2019 until after the Thai general election the following month. After the suspension, the head of the separatist delegation, Shukree Haree, resigned, questioning Thailand’s sincerity in conducting dialogue. Shukree has not been replaced. General Udomchai Thammasarorat, former chief of the Thai dialogue delegation, did not meet with MARA Patani during his year-long tenure, which ended on 1 October. His successor, former National Security Council director-general Wanlop Rugsanaoh, has given no indication that dialogue will soon resume. The process is beset by Thai concerns that MARA Patani does not represent fighters inside Thailand and militant suspicions that Thai authorities are using the dialogue primarily as a public relations exercise.

Malaysia, which shares a border with Thailand and is home to many exiled Patani Malay militants, serves as facilitator of the dialogue.

Malaysia, which shares a border with Thailand and is home to many exiled Patani Malay militants, serves as facilitator of the dialogue. Although militant leaders and Thai officials alike agree that Kuala Lumpur must be involved, at least some in each cohort question whether Malaysia can be an impartial mediator. Many militants in exile resent the reported Malaysian pressure on BRN to join the MARA Patani process. For their part, some Thai officials suspect that Malaysia’s sympathies lie with the militants, given that so many are in exile there.

BRN’s refusal to participate has badly impaired the Thailand-MARA Patani dialogue. Though there are individual BRN members in MARA Patani, the mainstream of BRN has refused to join. The group is not opposed to talks in principle, but it adheres to a 2013 list of five conditions for participation in peace talks, among which are mediation by a disinterested third party and inclusion of international observers. Thailand, however, rejects these conditions.

Senior Thai officials have also discounted the possibility of political autonomy or decentralisation in southernmost Thailand, with some insisting on a resolution tantamount to BRN’s capitulation. Since the coup that brought a military junta to power in 2014, the Thai government has further centralised authority. The formal return of parliamentary rule in June 2019 has done little to change the complexion of the government, which remains dominated by junta figures who regard decentralisation as a slippery slope toward partition and a threat to national sovereignty.

How can the peace process be revived?

The existing dialogue process appears to have reached a dead end, but Thai authorities are quietly seeking back channels to militants outside MARA Patani. This development is encouraging, given that resolution of the conflict in southernmost Thailand will inevitably require the participation of BRN’s majority faction. But a meaningful, substantive dialogue will require a reboot of the process on terms acceptable to both sides. Such an approach must grapple with the need for an impartial mediator, while still according a role to Kuala Lumpur, and clarify which entities on each side can offer credible guarantees. Only then will it be possible to begin the arduous work of achieving a political compromise that can bring an end to the violence.

Map of Thailand

CRISISGROUP