56 deaths and 547 injuries in Thailand’s Deep South in March, what is next? : Part 1
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56 deaths and 547 injuries in Thailand’s Deep South in March, what is next? : Part 1

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), and up until September 2010 (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.

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.

Chart 1: Deaths and injuries 2004-2011:

BP: As you will see things improved in 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 while things started to improve in 2008, the number of deaths and injuries since 2008 have also not dropped dramatically (i.e rough the same number of deaths and injuries in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011).  Unfortunately, the improvement in the security situation should have resulted in moves towards a political solution in 2008 and onwards, but there has been little progress on this front.

Chart 2: Injuries : January 2009-March 2012

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NOTE: Yes, the January 2009-March 2012 timeframe is rather arbitrary, but the width of the space for a blog post is limited so can only include around 40 months. BP has also included full statistics from January 2004 to March 2012 as well although you will need to click on separate links to get the full-size image.

BP: As you will see – also from the below chart – 547 injuries is the most number of injuries in a single month by far. BP hasn’t seen an exact breakdown, but there were around 350 injuries from the March 31 Hat Yai bombings and more than 100 injuries in Yala (MCOT). Hence, these two incidents explains the increase in the number of injuries. Most of the injuries were minor, ie. smoke inhalation, and vast majority went home that day. This is not to understate what happened that day, but it is a single day and on its own, it does not yet suggest a sustained increase in violence – you can see there were 221 injuries between November 2011-February 2012 which is less than the number of injuries in the two months prior to this (i.e September-October 2011 where there were 268). The violence goes up and down like a yo-yo at times – look at deaths in Chart 4 in particular – so we need to wait for another 3-6 months to see if there is a consistent increase.

Nevertheless, the demonstration of the increased capacities of the Hat Yai and Yala bombings shows the insurgents have the capacity to dramatically increase the number of fatalities from a couple of incidents, but we are still waiting to see whether this will happen (i.e was March 31 a one-off, an escalation, or something in between – BP things the latter).

Chart 3 : Injuries : January 2004 – March 2012

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A larger size chart can be found here.

Chart 4 : Deaths : January 2009 – March 2012

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BP: As you can see the March death toll is on the high side although it is within the normal range. As noted above, deaths go up and down like a yo-yo at times.  In fact, there had been a slight lull towards the end of last year, but then things

 Chart 5 : Deaths : January 2004- March 2012

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A larger size chart  can be found here.

Chart 6 : Incidents : January 2009- March 2012

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BP: Despite the large injury toll, incidents were not up. This just demonstrates how much deadlier attacks are now.  To paraphrase something that BP read recently, it is more efficient to plant a large car bomb  and cause massive damage than to undertake daily drive-bys (i.e riding up on a motorcycle and shooting another person on a motorcycle which exposes the shooter to the risk of getting caught each time). Over time, we have gradually seen more and bigger car bombs.

Chart 7 : Incidents : January 2009- March 2012

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A larger size chart can be found here.

BP: In Part 2, BP will look at recent news about talks and negotiations with the insurgents.


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