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Thailand insurgency boils down to lack of trust

Soldiers inspect the body of a suspected insurgent after a clash with Marines at a navy base in Narathiwat province, southern Thailand, on February 13. Photo by The Nation

Publication Date : 19-02-2013


The bombs over the weekend that killed two people and hurt 12 others in Pattani show that the conflict in Thailand's deep south is still far from a solution unless the authorities and all relevant parties decide to tackle the conflict fundamentally.

The incidents came after a gunfight last week that claimed the lives of 16 Malay-Muslim separatist insurgents in Narathiwat province. It was expected that that incident would lead to more violence from the insurgents.

The reaction of some local people in the deep south after the incident in Narathiwat shows the deep-rooted mistrust toward the central authorities. It is reported that large crowds of people attended the funerals of some of the dead militants last week. Those scenes are telling because they reveal the important and fundamental issue that has led to the prolonged conflict in the three southernmost provinces.

Some local residents feel mistrust toward the Thai state, and they apparently want to express their grievances. Unfortunately, some resort to violence when they of incidents in the deep southern provinces has caught the feel that they are unfairly treated.

Over the past week, a series nation's attention. The shootout, at a Marine camp in a remote village in Bacho district in the furthest southern province of Narathiwat, made national headlines.

Some policy-makers in Bangkok, trying to sound firm and reassuring in this time of crisis, expressed regret for the loss of lives. Such a gesture toward the Malay minority in the south is very rare indeed, and it should be welcomed. It is of course a sad predicament when Thai citizens take up arms against the authorities.

But from the reaction of residents, a solution will require more than just gestures of goodwill. It will require a sound policy, and the government must stay the course on whatever commitment it makes.

For the past nine years the government has been using a two-pronged strategy - military tactics to suppress the militants and development initiatives to win the hearts and minds of the locals. Neither approach has worked because they fail to touch on the historical mistrust and grievances toward the government by Malay people in the deep South.

There is no cause for celebration when 50 insurgents march into a Marine death trap, for it does not mark the end of the insurgency. In fact, there are more issues to be addressed over the incident, such as ambiguities over what actually took place.

A clear explanation of the cause of the incident would create understanding among the people. It's no use to stereotype people who were involved. In a conflict zone like the southern provinces, there are no absolute villains. Some are drawn into the insurgent movement because of misunderstanding or mistrust of the central authorities.

The problem, essentially, is about the mismanagement of state-minority relations. One should keep in mind that the Malays never really challenged Thai or Siamese legitimacy after the region came under Bangkok's direct rule in 1909. Armed insurrection did not happen until the 1960s. This is not to say it was all roses for the first half-century after the seven Malay sultans were removed from power. The question is how the two sides negotiated a comfort level and what went wrong in the management of that relationship that has led to the current round of insurgent violence.

Violence cannot be ended with violence. In fact, there are fears of future retaliation if the fundamental issues of the conflict are not fixed. The protracted problem needs to be addressed on the basis of creating understanding and trust on both sides to ensure peaceful co-existence.


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