15 killed in deep south, government stuck in coercive approach

In the wake of the killing of 15 people in the Deep South, there is still no sign of the government changing course. 

source: ISOC Region 4

On Tuesday (ุ5 Nov) at midnight, an unknown number of assailants attacked two security checkpoints in Yala Province, killing at least 15 and injuring at least 4. The Reporters said that 8 guns were stolen. 

One security checkpoint under attack where no damage was caused was at Village No.4 of Lam Phaya Subdistrict, Mueang District, Yala Province, but the checkpoint at Village No.5 saw many dead and injured bodies when rescue teams arrived. 

The assailants also put nails on Highway 409 and tires were set alight, disabling 3 rescue vehicles. Security units were sent in to contain the area but there is still no confirmation if the assailants have been found. 

Khaosod English reported Pol Col Thaweesak Thongsongsi, superintendent of a police station in Yala Province, saying that the assailants used heavy weapons in the attack. A small explosive was found near an electricity pole to shut down electricity. 

Many sources reported that 11 died at the security checkpoint. And at least 4 died at the hospital while another 4 were injured. 

All of them were volunteers, including civilians who joined the Peace Through Development programme under Royal Auspices of Sirikit the Queen Mother launched in 2006. Three are civilians who underwent paramilitary training arranged by the Royal Thai Army. 

Among them were also a police officer, a deputy village head , and a paramilitary unit doctor. Together they formed a joint security unit, one among many which volunteer to patrol the area.  

According to Isara, a total of around 95,000 civilians have undergone training, working with around 35,000 police and military officers. It reports the authorities as saying that the incident occurred when there had been no violence for a long time, giving the insurgents an opportunity for a surprise attack. 
 
The analysis also said that officers had been re-assigned to cover the ASEAN summit. At the summit, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia, which has played a role in negotiations between the Thai government and the insurgency groups, declared an anti-separatist stance and offered more cooperation in joint patrols. 

It also said that the incident was in the context of news about a meeting between Thai and Malaysian facilitators to start negotiations with BRN, an insurgency group, which wanted to show its capabilities to increase its bargaining power.  

Is the military approach effective? 

The incident is part of the chronic conflict in the Deep South of Thailand. Some of the insurgency groups have claimed in public statements that it is a conflict which has lingered for decades between the Thai state and Patani, a centre of political power before the realization of the Thai nation state under the absolute monarchy of King Rama V. 

Thai governments have tried for years to establish peace in the Deep South, and have repeatedly failed. The post-election government led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has continued to use a coercive approach just like before the election, but many question its effectiveness. 

During a parliamentary session in October, Dr. Petchdau Tohmeena, a Bhumjaithai Party MP, said that in the last 15 years, there have been 20,376 incidents or 3.64 per day with 7,017 deaths and 13,673 injuries. 3,075 became widows, or 0.54 per day, and 6,575 became orphans, or 1.17 per day. 

She also said that this year the budget allocates 10,865.5 million baht for an integration plan to solve the conflict in the Deep South. 36.4% of the budget goes to the military, 24.5% goes to development projects, and 16.5% goes to road construction. She asked if there was an effective use and evaluation of the 20 million baht secret budget transferred to the Office of Deep South Administration every year. 

Pannika Wanich, a Future Forward Party MP, also said that during the 5 years of Gen Prayut's premiership, 81,924 million baht or 56 million baht per day was spent to solve the conflict in the Deep South. This year the aim was "adjustment in people's attitude, beliefs, perception, and cultivation of nationalist awareness, patriotism, and good feelings towards the military." She asked if the approach was effective when a survey showed that 65% of people in the Deep South see peace talks as a primary approach to a solution. 

This year the budget was cut 20 per cent with the goals of reducing the insurgency by 20%, growing the local economy by 10%, and successfully holding 90% of events with the local people. According to BBC Thai and Isara, the last 17 years saw spending of 313,792 million baht by 8 governments. 

Martial law, the Emergency Decree, and the Internal Security Act have remained in force in the Deep South for years, enabling the authorities to make questionable arrests and treat thousands of people with impunity, reflected in the recent death in custody of Abdullah Isomuso and the attempted suicide of judge Khanakorn Pianchana.  Recently, the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), the main agency assigned to solve the conflict in the Deep South, required mobile phone users there to register facial identification for their SIM cards, triggering concerns over a violation of privacy guaranteed by law. 

ISOC is also responsible for the military approach to many development projects, attitude adjustment, and training to establish peace in the Deep South. The dead and injured volunteers were also part of these initiatives. ISOC made clear earlier this year that it will continue the work of the NCPO, which staged the military coup in 2014 and which still remains in power in the disguise of an elected government. 

It is questionable if this approach is effective as the peace talks between the representatives of the insurgency and the government have been at a halt since February. Mara Patani, the umbrella group which claims to represent the insurgency, said the peace talks may continue after the general election in March with new government representatives. With the possibility of a new round of negotiations, the future of the Deep South remains clouded.