Has there been an increase in violence since the peace talks? – Part 1: Deaths
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Has there been an increase in violence since the peace talks? – Part 1: 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.

Chart 1: Deaths: 2004-2012:

Chart 2: Monthly deaths: January 2004 – August 2013:

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NOTE: A link to a much wider (1300+ pixels width with the monthly figures) is available from here. 

BP: As you will see things 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 while things started to improve in 2008, but how does that compare between the last two governments.

Chart 3: Deaths during the Abhisit Vejjajiva government: December 2008-July 2011:

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NOTE: There is a good question of when to count the end of the Abhisit government. 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 have gone for the end of July 2011 – actually if you were to exclude those two months it would actually improve the record of the government.

BP: In the 32 months of the Abhisit government, there were 1,330 deaths or 41.6 death a month.

Chart 4: Deaths during the Yingluck Shinawatra government: August 2011-August 2013:

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BP: In the 25 months of the Yingluck government there have been 1021 deaths or 40.8 deaths a month.

What about since the peace talks started?

Chart 5: Deaths in the 12 months prior to the peace talks and in the 6 months since the peace talks started:

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NOTE: It was announced on February 28, 2013 that peace talks would start.

BP: 6 months have passed since peace talks started. This is enough time to at least provide some preliminary analysis. It is not a good idea to look at single days – you can have 5-6 people die and that sounds bad, but if no one else dies for the next 3-4 days well we are already back to the norm – as they can distort things. 6 months is, in BP’s view, a long enough period.

In the 6 months since peace talks started, we have had 238 deaths or 39.7 deaths a month. How does this compare with the past?

A. If you compare with the previous 6 months before that where there were 244 deaths or 40.7 deaths a month.
B. If you compare it for the same time period last year (Mar-Aug) where there were 246 deaths or 41 deaths a month.
C. If you compare with the average monthly death since Jan 2008 where there were 40.9 deaths a month.

BP: A minor drop, but not really statistically significant. Not worse, but not much better. Interestingly, there has been a change in the people targeted though. WSJ:

Data from a security unit showed the number of officers killed in the southern border region during March and June of 2013 totaled 55, compared with 20 recorded during the same period of 2012.  However, civilian casualties dropped in half, to 43 from last year’s 81.

Col. Pramote Promin, spokesman for the Thai Army’s Region 4 Internal Security Operations Command, said the change in the number of deaths doesn’t signal a shift in tactics of attacks.

“It is true that more and more security officers and volunteers have become the insurgents’ targets so far this year.  But that’s because the attackers have employed more bombing tactics to cause more damages,” said Col. Pramote.  “All the slain policemen belonged to the team tasked with the clampdown on oil smuggling, which is a part of the many illicit activities that are connected with separatist movements.”

Srisompob Jitpiromsri, director of Deep South Watch, an independent organization to promote peace in the restive south, is still optimistic about peace talks. Fewer civilian casualties may imply that the peace dialogue is working, even though the conclusion is not yet reached.

Civilians are significantly less of a target since the peace talk began. Overall, the situation has improved. We have the lowest total death tolls in nine years,” said Mr. Srisompob.

BP: This is more a shift to the tactics pre-2004…