Wednesday, May 27, 2020

South caught in an endless loop of violence

Oct 29. 2016
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By The Nation

Talks with MARA Patani have limited potential to succeed if root causes not tackled

It breaks everybody’s heart when innocent young people, especially  little boys and girls, get caught up in political violence.

But in a situation when the state is hardly ever put in a position where it has to defend its policy and handling of a domestic conflict like in Thailand’s southernmost provinces, the message being consumed by the general public will, most likely, be distorted. 

This is not to say that the bomb that ripped through Pattani’s nigh market last Monday, killing one and injuring 18 others, should not be condemned. 

Political conflict in whatever form must embrace some degree of civility and humanitarian norms. Attacking civilians and non-combatant targets are violations that must be condemned.

But the same standards and principles must apply to the government side as well. Authorities must understand that the culture of impunity in the far South where no security officials have ever been convicted of any wrongdoing over sweeping operations that have led to some 100 young Malay Muslims being detained, interrogated and allegedly beaten up over the past two weeks, will draw a reaction from the insurgents. 

They should also understand that their dialogue with the MARA Patani – a network of separatist groups who have been talking to the Thai government negotiators – will be discredited by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the one long-standing separatist group that controls the vast majority of combatants on the ground and is not a part of the talks. 

As expected, government officials tried hard to make sense of what had happened, issuing the usual sound bites. 

Colonel Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the Internal Security Operation Command’s Region Four, said authorities suspected the Monday night attack was launched by assailants linked to previous incidents, particularly the July 3 blast that was carried out in front of the Pattani Central Mosque, which caused the death of one police officer and left three injured.

Deputy Defence Minister General Udomdech Sitabutr, who leads the newly established 13-member “front command Cabinet” tasked with tackling issues related to the southern unrest, said he had ordered officers to improve security measures to protect development projects.

What development projects is Udomdech talking about? For the past 13 years marked by daily violence, no development project in this conflict-ridden region has taken off.

There have been only a few incidents in which officials working on development projects have been killed but there is no suggestion that the insurgents were out to destroy the project itself. 

If they really sought to, the Patani Malay separatist militants who enjoy tremendous support among the majority local Malay Muslims can easily destroy the economic lifeline that links the region to the rest of the country. 

The insurgents have exercised some restraint, even though the government doesn’t want to admit to it.

Udomdech called the militants “misguided” but he was not clear as to what these combatants were straying from. Perhaps it was just something politicians say – or in this case, a retired soldier trying to play politician – to create the impression that they are important and interesting.

Perhaps the one man who made the most sense was Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who suggested that it was the work of insurgents’ attempt to discredit the ongoing peace talks. 

And since public space and security was so important in the latest round of talks with the MARA Patani, in line with past practices, it was inevitable that the BRN militants would attack a public space, such as Pattani’s night market. 

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