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Thailand: Malay-Muslim Insurgency and the Dangers of Intractability
Thailand: Malay-Muslim Insurgency and the Dangers of Intractability
Report 215 / Asia

推进和平: 东盟及泰柬边境冲突

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泰国和柬埔寨之间的边界冲突,已造成数十人伤亡,数千人流离失所。这对东南亚国家联盟(东盟)带来了挑战,即如何将有关和平与安全的言辞最终付诸于行动。2006年的政变导致了泰国总理他信·西那瓦的下台。在泰国动荡的政治背景下,柬埔寨成功地将柏威夏寺列入世界遗产名录。泰国亲建制运动利用这个问题掀起了反柬埔寨的民族主义情绪并试图推翻他信支持的政府。群情愤慨的运动迫使边界勘定中断,导致双边冲突爆发。2011年初,这一争端演变为东盟成员国之间迄今为止最激烈的冲突,这是对其互不侵犯这一历史承诺的考验,同时也促使东盟进行干预。国际社会都期望东盟能实现其一贯愿望,即维护自身区域内的和平。然而,到目前为止,东盟干预争端的行动虽然为将来树立了重要先例,但效果甚微。要取得成效,还需要更有力的外交努力和领导才能。

这一争端延续了50年,但几乎被人遗忘。如今这一争端复燃并演变为激烈的武装冲突,与两起事件息息相关:泰国以色彩为代号的政治斗争,即2006年9月他信因政变而流亡后,在亲建制的“黄衫军”和亲他信的“红衫军”之间发生的冲突; 以及联合国教科文组织于2008年7月接受申请,将柬埔寨柏威夏古寺地区列入世界遗产名录。在柬埔寨,人们为此举国欢庆,认为这是高棉人的骄傲。在泰国,极端民族主义的黄衫军借此大做文章,指责由总理沙马·顺达卫领导的他信的代理政府卖国叛国。这成为亲建制派实现政治目的的有力武器,直接导致外长下台,政府解散。尽管由军队扶持的前政权也支持将柏威夏列入世界遗产名录,但亲建制派仍成功地将支持古寺入名录的动机描绘成为他信企图扩张商业利益。在黄衫军发动袭击之前,两国官员都认为将柏威夏寺列入世界遗产名录将创造一个互利互惠的旅游商机。

边境的形势日益军事化和紧张化。由于派遣联合小组到边境地区过于危险,边境勘定划界工作陷入停顿。与此同时,泰国的政治动荡导致外长和其他高级官员频繁更替。民族主义者的诉讼官司,富有争议的法院裁决和宪法规定都妨碍了官员们解决争端的谈判努力,使双边关系进一步恶化。柬埔寨首相洪森对这些消极行为和阻挠战术极为沮丧,并经常对其作出抨击,甚至曾任命他信为顾问。这一小插曲使动荡的双边关系跌至最低点。

尽管东盟在2008年到2010年间对泰柬两国给予了警告,“东盟推动和平的方式”仍是被动的而非积极的。在2011年爆发敌对行动后,联合国安理会树立了一个先例,即将解决争端的决策权转交给东盟和当时的轮值主席国印度尼西亚(印尼)。结果表明,正如[部分] 支持者们所希望的那样,印尼富有活力和大胆进取的领导作风可以进一步团结东盟。东盟的努力取得了突破性进展,即泰柬双方同意接受由印尼派出的观察员队伍以监督停火。

泰国的文职领导人起初同意接收观察员,但在遭到军方的抵制后反悔,宣称观察员将破坏其国家主权,这也表明了政变后泰国政治斗争的局势尚未明朗。柬埔寨5月同意接收观察员,但印尼只愿在得到两国同时首肯后才派遣监督员。2011年7月英拉·西那瓦当选为泰国总理,这一事件曾被视作局势的转折点,但事实并非如此。国际法庭下令在柏威夏古寺周围建立临时性非军事区,并呼吁东盟对撤军进行监督。即便如此,解决争端的政治障碍仍未消除。2011年10月,泰国遭遇了有史以来最严重的洪灾,导致政府不堪重负。随着洪水的退去,泰国和柬埔寨双方需要再次努力,尽快执行国际法庭的裁决。

东盟在2011年初介入泰柬边界问题时,旨在停止敌对行动并重启和谈。虽然自5月份以来没有爆发边境战斗,但停火多为口头协定,并无任何书面协议。这场冲突只有在证实双方均已撤军并且外交官恢复谈判以后才算结束。但在尝试解决该问题的过程中,东盟在印尼领导下已经为处理未来类似纠纷设置了一套方案。如要实现其既定目标,即为自身的和平与安全负责,东盟需要在纠纷初现端倪时就利用现有机制解决问题,而不是仅仅依赖于态度积极的轮值主席国。泰国和柬埔寨之间的纠纷仍不断为东盟提出挑战,因此东盟如要在将来保持本地区的安全稳定,必须在这一争议边界实现切实的和平。

曼谷/雅加达/布鲁塞尔,2011年12月6日

 

Commentary / Asia

Thailand: Malay-Muslim Insurgency and the Dangers of Intractability

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.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2017 – Second Update.

The occurrence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-linked or inspired violence in Jakarta, Mindanao, and Puchong, near Kuala Lumpur, has raised fears of a new era of transnational jihadist terrorism in South East Asia. To date, ISIS has used Thailand as a transit point rather than a target; indeed, there is no known case of a Thai citizen joining the group. But the persistence of a Malay-Muslim separatist insurgency in the kingdom’s southernmost provinces, where roughly 7,000 people have been killed since 2004, is a source of concern among some Western governments, Thai officials, local people and even some within the militant movement. Repeated, if poorly substantiated reports of ISIS activity in Thailand, from foreign fighters transiting through Bangkok to allegations of Malaysian ISIS members buying small arms in southern Thailand, have prompted questions about the insurgency’s susceptibility to radicalisation along transnational jihadist lines. Yet even absent intervention by foreign jihadists, the insurgency’s own dynamics could lead to greater violence.

Thus far, the separatist insurgency has had little in common with jihadism. Rooted in the country’s nearly two million Malay Muslims, who constitute a majority in the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, its aspirations are nationalist in nature: liberation of Patani, the homeland they consider to have been colonised by Thailand, and defence of Patani-Malay identity against so-called Siamification. Moreover, the insurgency draws support from traditionalist Islamic leaders, upholders of a syncretic, Sufi-inflected Islam who oppose the rigid views propagated by jihadists. Even the relatively small Salafi minority rejects ISIS’s brutal tactics and apocalyptic vision; some among them claim that ISIS is a product of Western machinations. For Barisan Revolusi Nasional Patani Melayu (BRN, Patani-Malay National Revolutionary Front), the main Malay-Muslim militant group, in other words, association with transnational jihadists would risk cutting them off from their base while triggering greater isolation. It could also internationalise efforts to defeat them.

Dangers of an Intractable Conflict

Yet perpetuation of the conflict risks altering its trajectory which, in turn, threatens to change the nature of the insurgency. In principle, this could potentially open opportunities for foreign jihadists, who have proven adept at exploiting other protracted conflicts. That remains for now a theoretical threat: little evidence thus far suggests jihadist penetration in Southern Thailand. As noted, neither the insurgency nor the broader Malay Muslim community has shown any inclination toward jihadism.

Without progress in peace talks or an inclusive dialogue, insurgents might resort to more dramatic acts of violence.

Without progress in peace talks or an inclusive dialogue, insurgents might resort to more dramatic acts of violence however. They already have shown they can stage attacks outside the deep south, as they did in August 2016 when they conducted a series of coordinated, small-scale bombings in seven resort areas, wounding European tourists among others. Militant groups also might splinter, with rival factions competing to demonstrate their capabilities to potential supporters and the government. In turn, increased violence or attacks against civilians – particularly outside the conflict zone – could fuel an anti-Islamic backlash and stimulate Buddhist nationalism, creating tensions between Muslim and Buddhist communities throughout the country. A prolonged conflict means more young Malay Muslims will have grown up in a polarised society and experienced traumatic events. This could split a more pragmatic elder generation from a more militant younger one.

Stalled dialogue

The surest way to reduce these risks would be to bring the insurgency to an end – a task at present both daunting and long-term. The ruling, military-led National Council for Peace and Order, which seized power in a May 2014 coup, is engaged in a dialogue with MARA Patani (Majlis Syura Patani, Patani Consultative Council), an umbrella group of five militant organisations whose leaders are in exile. But many perceive the dialogue, facilitated by Malaysia, essentially as a public-relations exercise through which Bangkok intends to signal its willingness to peacefully resolve the conflict without making any concessions. Likewise, there are doubts that MARA can control most fighters: although the BRN has the top three slots in MARA Patani’s leadership, BRN’s information department insists these members have been suspended and do not speak for the organisation.

After a year-and-a-half, the MARA process remains stuck. In April 2016, the Thai government balked at signing a Terms of Reference agreement to govern talks, which remain unofficial. At the time, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha argued that MARA lacked the necessary status to act as the government’s counterpart. After a hiatus, the two sides resumed their meetings in August and, in February 2017, they agreed in principle to establish “safety zones”, district-level compacts in which neither side would target civilians. They also agreed to form inclusive committees to investigate violent incidents, although details still need to be worked out and they have yet to announce a district for pilot implementation.

For its part, BRN insists on impartial international mediation and third-party observers as conditions for formal talks with Bangkok. In a 10 April 2017 statement, BRN’s information department reiterated these prerequisites and noted that negotiating parties themselves should design the process, a jab at Malaysia’s role as facilitator. Demonstrating that they exercised control over fighters, the BRN implemented an unannounced lull in attacks from 8 to 17 April, a period preceded and followed by waves of coordinated attacks across several districts.

In late June 2017, a senior Thai official said that the government might re-examine the issue of the identity of its counterpart, a rare public sign of high-level deliberation and possible flexibility. Although this could suggest willingness to consider BRN’s conditions – including the sensitive question of Malaysia’s role and that of any internationalisation – which it previously had rejected outright, it could also constitute another delaying tactic.

The National Council for Peace and Order apparently still clings to the conviction that the conflict can be resolved through attrition, enemy surrenders and economic development, without any fundamental change in state/society relations in the deep south. The military, whose entire ethos is based on the image of national unity and whose senior officers tend to view enhanced local power as a first step toward partition, is loath to contemplate autonomy or political decentralisation. Since taking power, it has suppressed once-lively public debate about decentralisation models, such as proposals for elected governors or sub-regional assemblies.

Options for the European Union

In this context, one of the international community’s longer-term goals should be to encourage Bangkok to accept some degree of political decentralisation as fully compatible with preservation of national unity. For the European Union (EU) and those EU member states that are engaged in the country such as Germany, in particular, an important objective would be to encourage the government to establish a more inclusive dialogue and to support it, when possible, through capacity building for both parties. Admittedly, their influence with the National Council for Peace and Order is limited. After the 2014 coup, the EU suspended official visits to and from Thailand, as well as negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement and the Partnership Cooperation Agreement, pending a return to elected government. Restrictions on popular representation, codified in the new constitution and laws, mean that even a general election, now scheduled for 2018, might not satisfy the EU’s requirement of functioning democratic institutions. Moreover, Bangkok is not yet prepared to countenance an EU role.

[The] EU and member states should urge the Thai government to restore civil liberties and freedom of expression to allow more open discussion and debate.

That aside, relations with Bangkok are not hostile; Thailand and the EU held a Senior Officials Meeting 9 June 2017 in Brussels, the first since 2012. When conditions permit, the EU should be well placed to support a peace process, given perceptions in Thailand of its impartiality. In the meantime, the EU and member states should continue encouraging the parties to deal with each other constructively. This could include sharing experiences in sub-national conflict resolution and political power devolution or offering training on matters such as negotiations, communication and conflict management.

In the near term, the EU and member states should urge the Thai government to restore civil liberties and freedom of expression to allow more open discussion and debate. Among other benefits, such steps would facilitate a public conversation within Malay Muslim communities that, in turn, might diminish risks of radicalisation. Already, the EU backs civil-society organisations’ endeavours to promote community and youth engagement in peace building. This ought to continue.