Has there been an increase in violence since the peace talks? – Part 3: IncidentsBy Bangkok Pundit Oct 21, 2013 10:00AM UTC
As blogged in Part 1 on deaths:
BP has previously blogged on DeepSouthWatch’s statistics on the violence in the Deep South in 2007 (here), 2008 (posts here and here), 2009 (here), up until September 2010 (here), up until March 2012 (here), and up until July 2012 here.
At different times, the security agencies and governments will say the situation in Thailand’s Deep South is getting better. The question is then, how can you evaluate if the situation is getting better? To only examine whether the number of violent incidents is declining doesn’t fully answer the question. It could be possible to have a reduction in the number of violent incidents, but more deaths (i.e bigger bombs). Therefore, BP will look at deaths, injuries and incidents in this series of posts.
Nevertheless, BP thinks that deaths are the most important factor to look at. For example, not all injuries are equal – there is a difference between a very minor injury where you released from hospital within a few hours with no long-term physical problems vs a serious injury that leaves you paralyzed, but all injuries are counted as injuries. For example, the highest number of injuries in a single month was in March 2012 with 547 injuries, but around 450 of these injuries were from coordinated attacks including an attack on a mall in Hat Yai, but most of the injuries were from smoke inhalation and most were released within 24 hours. This is not to say that injuries are not important, but just that BP thinks deaths are more relevant. Similarly with incidents, if there are 50 incidents that kills 50 people and leaves 50 injured, is that really significantly better than 100 incidents that has the same number of dead and injured? Now, more incidents means witnesses – i.e. if you see someone getting killed or injured – or are just see an incident where no one gets injured or killed, you will be affected. However, if there are fewer incidents, but deaths and injuries are the same, BP wouldn’t really define this as an improvement.
All these statistics come courtesy of Ajarn Srisompob of Deep South Watch, but if there are any errors in converting the statistics into charts then those are errors by BP. BP should note that the below figures are not necessarily all insurgent violence. For example, in 2004 you will see large death tolls in April and October. This was not only because the insurgents were killing more people, but the state was through the Kru Se and Tak Bai incidents. In addition, it is difficult to discern between insurgent and non-insurgent violence as the insurgents do not leave calling cards. It is estimated that around 25-30 percent of the violence is non-insurgent, but the culture of impunity and violence can also be a contributing factor to an increase in non-insurgent violence so it is not as though insurgent and non-insurgent violence is unrelated.
BP: Part 2 looked at injuries.
So below are some charts and brief analysis of incidents.
NOTE: A link to a much wider (1000+ pixels width with the monthly figures) is available from here.
BP: As you will see things have improved since 2008. As BP has pointed out previously:
The dramatic drop in terrorist incidents and number killed or injured did not happen immediately after the military staged a coup in September 2006. The coup leader was mainly concerned about the return of the deposed democratic government and diverted resources and attention away from the Deep South to the capital Bangkok. The military budget almost doubled, but this was mainly spent on traditional military purchases like new Swedish Gripen fighter jets which were of little use in the Deep South. The result by the middle of 2007 was an increase in violence with 72 people being killed per month compared with 53 before the coup.
Nevertheless, after the coup, there had been a continued increase in troop numbers, raids and detention of suspected terrorists, and a more consistent security policy compared with what existed under the deposed government which was known for its hard line approach. However, it was not until a new army chief (the coup leader reached retirement age in September) was appointed in October 2007 that we saw a greater increase in numbers. There are now over 100,000 security personnel in the Deep South.
The main reason for the drop in the violence was a change in counter-insurgency strategy with a more unified command structure. No longer were security personnel confined to the barracks and being on the defensive. Patrols became more regular and larger in number. As most of the terrorists operate in cells of 8 or less, the increased number of troops on patrols has meant that when the security forces have been ambushed, they have the numbers to fight back. For example, in May 2008, there were 18 ambushes on such patrols, but security forces only suffered one casualty and 8 injuries. On the other hand, the security forces themselves killed 25 terrorists in the first 6 months of 2008.
Raids with hundreds of personnel were also conducted in major terrorist strongholds and areas where cordoned off while houses and people were searched. Instead of arbitrarily detaining large numbers of villagers for 7 days at a military base for questioning and then for months at re-education camps, forensic equipment was now used to test for explosive residue and fingerprints were checked on the spot. Those who were not involved were released which has lead to better relations with the local community. Tip-offs started to increase and security forces now regularly find caches of weapons and training camps on raids.
Whether a corner has been turned or the progress can be maintained is still open to question, but there is no doubt there has been a dramatic drop in the violence.
BP: Nevertheless, as you will also see that things started to improve in 2008, but how does does the number of incidents compare between the Abhisit and Yingluck governments?
NOTE: There is a good question of when did the Abhisit government end? We could say the end of May 2011 (the month of dissolution), the end of June 2011 (last month before the election), or the end of July 2011 (last month of caretaker responsibility). For simplicity sake BP has gone for the end of July 2011.
BP: In the 32 months of the Abhisit government, there were 2,516 incidents or 78.63 incidents a month.
BP: In the 25 months of the Yingluck government there have been 2,605 incidents or 104.2 incidents a month.
The big reason for the increase is that in August 2012 there were 380 incidents and in April 2013 there were 298 incidents respectively. However, in those months the number of deaths were 37 and 45 respectively which compares with the average number of deaths per month of 40.7 since January 2008 while the number of injuries were 66 and 75 respectively whereas the average number of injuries per month since January 2008 is 86.19. Hence a greater number of incidents does not necessarily correlate with a greater number of deaths and injuries. In fact, you have a lower number of injuries (although 2 months is not a big sample) and on average the same number of deaths. One reason for this could be the fact that the insurgents diverted activities from incidents which injure and kill more people to non-lethal, so-called symbolic attacks. However, BP does want to make clear that BP is not saying that incidents are not unimportant, it is just on the issue that a higher number of incidents does not necessarily means more deaths and injuries.
Having said that incidents are still relevant to the perception of violence, but also incidents impact those in the Deep South as well. An incident which does not cause deaths or injuries can still affect people in other ways. If someone’s business is blown up it can still affect the owner and others. So-called symbolic attacks can also affect how people carry out their lives. If certain types of businesses are attacked – such as Friday trading – even if not all incidents result in injuries and deaths the result was that many businesses shut on Friday. For some of the attacks, you had a number of deaths, but other attacks you didn’t. Those incidents where there are no deaths or injuries though still played a part in causing terror and/or changing people’s behaviour. It can be difficult to quantify the impact of incidents, but even symbolic attacks can terrorise people; it is just a different type of terror.
BP: Six months have passed since peace talks started. In BP’s view, it is not a good idea to look at single days as they can distort things, but 6 months is, in BP’s view, a long enough period to at least draw some preliminary conclusions.
In the 6 months since peace talks started, we have had 774 incidents or 129 incidents a month. How does this compare with the past?
A. If you compare with the previous 6 months before that where there were 516 incidents or 86 incidents a month.
B. If you compare it for the same time period last year (Mar-Aug) where there were 757 incidents or 126 incidents a month.
C. If you compare with the average monthly number of incidents since January 2008 where there have been 86.56 incidents a month.
BP: It does not matter which figures you compare with, there have been a greater number of incidents in the last 6 months compared with previously. As already stated above, more incidents doesn’t mean a greater number of deaths or injuries as overall deaths are slightly down since the peace talks and injuries are either up or down depending on what your point of comparison is – BP thinks the average number of monthly incidents since January 2008 is the most relevant point of comparison so on this comparison there has been a slight increase in the number of injuries. However, the number of incidents is clearly up. Overall, BP wouldn’t say the violence has decreased, but would also say it hasn’t seriously increased that the government should reevaluate talks on that basis. You could argue that talks should not be taking place at all – whether you don’t agree with negotiating with terrorists etc. – but on the basis of the level of violence, there is not enough evidence to say the peace talks have caused the violence in the Deep South to seriously worsen.