Talks to end the insurgency in Thailand’s southernmost provinces have repeatedly encountered obstacles, including the main rebel organisation’s abstention from the current round. With a new Thai official taking charge, and inviting that group to rejoin, both parties should drop objections that have hindered progress.
Protesters staged one of largest pro-democracy demonstrations since 2014 military coup while insurgents continued attacks against security forces in deep south. In capital Bangkok, activist group Free Youth and Thai Student Union 18 July organised demonstration at Democracy Monument with estimated 2,500 people demanding dissolution of parliament, new constitution and end to harassment of govt critics; organisers said they would intensify rallies if govt failed to respond by 1 Aug. Students in Chiang Mai and in Ubon Ratchathani 19 July gathered, echoing Bangkok demonstration’s demands; about 200 protesters 20 July also demonstrated outside army headquarters in Bangkok accusing military of inappropriate spending and political interference, reportedly in response to army’s former spokeswoman criticism of anti-govt protesters. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha 21 July said parliament could address protesters’ demands. Smaller pro-democracy protests 25 July took place in several provincial capitals; hundreds of protesters next day returned to Democracy Monument and continued demonstrations 26-30 July. In deep south, security forces 3 July raided house in Panare, Pattani, killing defence volunteer and suspected insurgent; that night, insurgents attacked ranger base in Sungai Padi, Narathiwat, with no casualties; next morning, bomb exploded near scene of previous night’s attack, with no casualties. Insurgents 8 July reportedly shot and killed ranger volunteer in Raman, Yala; 14-15 July reportedly detonated two bombs targeting security forces which killed one ranger and injured six rangers and four civilians in Mae Lan and Panare, Pattani. Four senior cabinet members including finance minister 9 July quit ruling Palang Pracharat Party and 16 July resigned from cabinet along with deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak; PM same day said he would reshuffle cabinet by end of Aug. PM and Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong 10 July met U.S. army chief James McConville in Bangkok, where Apirat and McConville signed “Strategic Vision” pact; U.S. embassy same day said meeting focused on “modernisation, interoperability, joint training and doctrine”.
Sound public health policies have largely spared Thailand from the coronavirus to date. But a looming economic crisis could shake the foundations of the political order. What is needed is revision of the 2017 constitution to allow for more pluralism and less inequality.
Thailand’s Malay-Muslim insurgency appears to some observers a potential seedbed for transnational jihadism, but the separatist fronts do not share ideologies or objectives with ISIS or al-Qaeda. The future is uncertain, and a resolution of the conflict, based on political decentralisation, could help deter prospective jihadist expansion in southernmost Thailand.
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.
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.
I think the reason [for the new talks in Thailand] is that [the Muslim separatists] recognize that the conflict is not going to end on the battlefield for them; it's going to have to end at the negotiating table.
As difficult as the [peace process in Thailand] has been up to this point, the most difficult work remains to be done.
[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.
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.
The Malay-Muslim separatist insurgency in Thailand’s South has little in common with jihadism, but persistent instability could provide openings for foreign jihadists who thrive on disorder. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Second Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to encourage Bangkok to accept some degree of decentralisation and to implement measures that can diminish radicalisation.
Originally published in Bangkok Post
Originally published in The New York Times