Are we any closer to a settlement with the insurgents in Thailand’s Deep South?
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Are we any closer to a settlement with the insurgents in Thailand’s Deep South?

BP has previously blogged about the idea of autonomy for the Deep South when Chavalit raised the issue here, the idea of a referendum here, on a op-ed by Achara here in the Bangkok Post,  another op-ed by Veera in the Bangkok Post here, an op-ed by Chandler Vandergrift in the Bangkok Post here, and on an article that independent researcher Jason Johnson has written an article for Asia Times on the Deep South here.

Then, a few months back BP blogged some statistics on the level of violence in the Deep South including from March 2012 and the coordinated attacks at the end of March which injured hundreds. In March 2012, there were  56 deaths and 547 injuries in Thailand’s Deep South. 547 injuries was a dramatic increase and was the most number of injuries ever in a single month although the number of deaths was above the previous few months although not unusually high. As noted then:

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 thinks the latter).

Jason Johnson, an independent researcher based in the Deep South, had an article last month in Asia Times Online. Some key excerpts below:

While journalists and security analysts have emphasized growing insurgent strength, will and capacity to escalate the unrest, statistics show the insurgency remains locked in a military stalemate. The number of deaths, injuries and violent incidents continues to fluctuate month to month but has shown no clear indications of an upward or downward trend.

There were 56 and 28 deaths resulting from violent incidents in the region respectively in March and April, according to data provided by the Deep South Watch, a Pattani-based think-tank that monitors violence in the region. Both figures fall within the general statistical range of deaths in the region since mid-2007.

BP: So no increase in April. There is not yet any pattern to suggest an upsurge in the violence and agree with Jason that the March and April death figures fall within the general statistical range of deaths.

Jason continues and raises negotiations and Thaksin’s role, particularly in light of stories of Thaksin meeting with some insurgent leaders (as blogged about here):

Yet Thaksin’s role in aggravating regional unrest may have little bearing on future negotiations. Far more significant, according to sources knowledgeable about the situation, is the government’s limited ability to kick-start a negotiation process. At this stage, they say, Yingluck, Thaksin and Tawee lack the political clout to push forward a peace deal.

Thai army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, a loyalist to the country’s influential monarchy and known Thaksin adversary, has denounced Puea Thai’s push for “Pattani Mahanakorn”, a proposed model of decentralized democratic regional governance crafted by civil society groups that some have suggested could be introduced as a bill to the country’s parliament.

Prayuth has also criticized Thaksin and Tawee for not talking with all separatist figures believed to have authority over insurgents in the region. The shadowy insurgency is believed to be fragmented into several groups and Thaksin is believed to have been in contact with only certain group representatives.

Since secretive and informal peace talks began under the coup-appointed government of General Surayud Chulanont in 2006, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate (BRN-C), the group playing the largest role in the violence but believed to be highly factionalized, has largely refused to engage in talks.

Military figures emphasize that BRN-C’s refusal stems from hardline aspirations for full-blown independence rather than more autonomy. Yet other sources with knowledge of the talks say that as long as Yingluck’s government is unable to demonstrate it is sincere about negotiations and at the same time guarantee it has civilian authority over the powerful military, the movement will never come forward coherently to the negotiation table.

That authority is in doubt, despite Prayuth’s insistence that the army operates on Yingluck’s civilian orders. While her government may be too weak to draw separatist figures with authority over insurgents to the table, Thaksin’s apparent position is precisely what civil society and the international community have long hoped for: a government that intends to end the protracted conflict through negotiations and by introducing some form of special democratic regional governance for the minority region.

Stalemates and settlements

Even if a unified commitment towards a negotiated settlement takes hold in Bangkok, comparative literature on the termination of internal conflicts indicates that it is highly questionable that any such settlement would stick.

BP: To be honest, BP doesn’t have much to argue with Jason about so will keep it short and suggest you give the article a read as am largely in agreement. His opinion is that there is no settlement in sight for now. Will the government push more further given the strong opposition from Prayuth particularly given other political problems? Possibly although unlikely. The situation in the Deep South has been in ‘too hard basket’ for a while now with successive governments outsourcing the issue to the military. Will Thaksin risk the wrath of the military and possible failure in negotiations? If not, there is little chance in a settlement. The constitutional amendments and reconciliation bills providing amnesty are likely much greater priorities….

As BP blogged at the end of 2010 on whether autonomy is a solution:

First, BP is of the view that some form of substantive autonomy/decentralization would assist in reducing the violence. Sure the hardline insurgent leaders would not be happy, but counterinsurgency doesn’t require you win the hearts and the minds of the hardliners. It requires you win the hearts and minds of the local population. Let’s not mince words. The insurgents could not operate without such tacit support/turning a blind eye by many sections of the local community (other sections provide more active support). But those tacit supporters are not always necessarily going to be tacit supporters. Therefore, not only must your words help develop trust with the local population, but your actions must, too. One way to do this is provide the local population with a greater say over how their affairs are organized instead of top-handed, Bangkok-appointed bureaucrats running the show.

BP’s problem with the Ministry proposal is that it appears to be one of these meaningless symoblic gestures which won’t do much and well if it is Ministry it will still be a Bangkok-appointed peson running the show. There are not enough specifics in the article, but it doesn’t seem to go far enough. BP is not opposed to a stepping stone/incremental approach, but just if the step is too small then the reaction may also be small. The reduction in violence or other changes are also likely to be small. If the progress is neglible because the first step is too small, will there be a second step? BP is just very sceptical that a Minister on its own is a substantive step. A Minister + elected governors now that would be….

btw, autonomy is not a pancea for all problems, please see these posts (herehere, and here) on the situation in the Philippines where the violence did not end, although it did drop.