By The Nation
The Isra Institute’s Isranews Agency has offered several theories on what might have been behind the bombs in Hat Yai and Yala on Saturday, in which at least 13 people were killed and hundreds were injured.
In an apparently coordinated attack, two motorcycle bombs went off in downtown Yala City, killing nine people and wounding 102 others. And at least four people were killed and about 300 injured in an explosion and fire at a Hat Yai hotel suspected to have been caused by a bomb in a car parked in the basement.
The institute said that although a clear link cannot be made between the southern separatist movement and the explosion in Hat Yai, the motivation for the explosions in Yala was obvious.
The institute believed several activities by the state may have contributed to the “Armageddon” incident on Saturday, including unofficial negotiations between the government and self-proclaimed separatist groups responsible for violence in the South.
During the official visit of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to Malaysia on February 20, the National Security Council initiated talks with one senior separatist group. Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) secretary-general Colonel Thawee Sodsong took a trip to Malaysia to meet a group called “Tom Yam Kung”, which runs popular Thai restaurants by that name in Malaysia, at the beginning of March.
Meanwhile, under the leadership of Fourth Army Region commander Lt-General Udomchai Thammasarorat, the military opened secret talks for several months with leaders of groups claiming to have influence over armed terrorists. Towards the end of the Abhisit government, talks were coordinated by a Thai police officer highly respected in Malaysia, which led to cease-fire agreements in some areas.
The various talks are believed to have produced mixed results. Talks led by the National Security Council have upset the military because the latter said they were not informed about it and they believe the groups that the council held talks with were not responsible for the violence.
Thawee told the Isra news team his meeting with the Tom Yam Kung group was intended to help 150,000-190,000 Thai workers, mostly from the three southernmost provinces, who work in the Tom Yam Kung restaurants, either legally or illegally. This would be in the form of low-interest loans to help them pay expenses such as the cost of getting work permits.
However, Deputy Prime Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapha insisted Thawee held secret talks with separatists.
The talks held by Udomchai seemed to be more fruitful. The separatist leaders insisted they
did not want a special administrative zone but full independence from the Thai government and admitted that they were exhausted with fighting and wanted am-nesty for all those arrested or facing arrest warrants. However, the Pheu Thai-led government has not agreed to the amnesty bid.
There has been no progress in talks held since the Abhisit government because the Yingluck administration has not continued negotiations with the same groups.
The poor coordination among government agencies in holding talks with southern terrorists has led to gaps in intelligence. These gaps are believed to have been exploited by those committing the latest violence.
However, Thawee’s move to help Thai workers from the South is believed by internal security offi-cials to have had a positive impact because it could help win the hearts of Thai Muslims, who
are the base of support for separatists. So, the terrorists chose to instigate fear in Thai Muslims who gave support to the SBPAC.
The latest violence is a clear statement from these separatists that they do not agree with peace talks or any negotiations. It is obvious that the senior separatist group has not taken part in committing violence and has not been able to control the situation. However they agreed to talk with the government, via the SBPAC, the military and the government.
This means there are many separatist groups with different agendas.
Another theory often cited by the military is that influential groups behind the drug trade, contraband goods rackets and money laundering sought to retaliate against crackdowns by the government against their illegal activities.
However, some analysts believe separatists may undertook the bombs to discredit the military linking their separatist movement with drug gangs.
The overall picture in the South is one of the government on the defensive and separatists on the offensive, executing well-planned and successful operations.
The Isra Institute says it is time for state agencies to get their act together to solve the problem. The government has not been able to solve poor coordination in regard to talks or mobilising resources. The Internal Security Operations Command has proposed an integrated management to solve the problem, but the government has not approved the plan.
Parliament has yet to pass master plans proposed by the National Security Council. Violence in the South will continue if urgent and serious action is not taken.