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BANGKOK 14 December 2018 04:01
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In Thailand's South, Fertile Ground For Terrorism

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In Thailand's South, Fertile Ground For Terrorism

Southeast Asia's soft underbelly

By John Brandon

WASHINGTON - While recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia, the Philippines, Afghanistan and the Middle East have drawn significant attention in the West, little notice has been given to the terrorist incidents last month in southern Thailand. It would be a mistake to overlook these highly organized attacks, as they indicate that in the fight against terrorism, Thailand may be turning into Southeast Asia's soft underbelly.

On Jan. 4, Islamic separatist insurgents set fire to 21 government schools and raided the 4th Army Engineers Battalion camp, killing four soldiers. This camp, the source of many of the Thai troops serving in Iraq, was undermanned on the day of the attack because soldiers were attending the funeral of a colleague killed in Iraq.

In Thailand's predominantly Muslim southern region there is a long history of resentment toward the central government, dating from 1902, when Siam, as Thailand was then known, annexed the Islamic Kingdom of Pattani. Thai Muslims have suffered from decades of government mismanagement, despite Thai government efforts in the 1980s and 1990s.

Thailand's 5 million Muslims resent the state's refusal to recognize their language, culture and Malay ethnicity, and the region is poorer than much of the rest of Thailand.

Despite the violence that has plagued the region, most Thai Muslims lead peaceful and pious lives, fishing, farming and trading. But part of Osama bin Laden's appeal in southern Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia is his call for justice for marginalized voices who want to see a better world for themselves. The recent killing of three Buddhist monks and two students is an indication that radical elements are seeking to polarize Muslim and Buddhist communities, creating a heightened sense of "us versus them."

Muslim insurgents also appear to have forged a relationship with narcotics gangs operating out of southern Thailand. Some of the profits from the drug trade and smuggling may be used to finance terrorist activities. If so, these are resources Thai Muslim separatist groups have never had before in their decades-long, on-again, off-again, insurgency.

Since the violence on Jan. 4, the Thai government has declared martial law in the mostly Muslim provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. Some observers believe the repressive strategies Thailand used to combat its communist insurgency in the 1960s and 1970s may be brought back. While re-establishing order in southern Thailand is imperative, draconian measures applied long-term would only serve to widen the gap between local people and Thai authorities. Such a strategy would benefit the insurgency, alienating villagers, particularly young Muslims, and pushing them toward Islamic militants.

Thailand could become a breeding ground for Islamic militants, as terrorists have been using the country as a transit or rendezvous point for years. Hambali, a senior Al Qaeda figure and the mastermind of the Bali bombings, planned the blasts from southern Thailand in January 2002. Since then, counterterrorism cooperation between Thailand and the United States has had some success, most notably the arrest of Hambali outside Bangkok in August 2003. But the Thai government's decision to support U.S. policy on Iraq has given southern Thai Muslims an ax to grind which could encourage greater radicalism.

While law enforcement and military action are legitimate tools to combat Islamic militancy in southern Thailand, so are economic development and community participation. This means creating an effective link between Thai government officials and local communities so that moderate Muslim religious and civic leaders can freely express their views on how Thailand's southernmost provinces can best develop and better integrate with the Thai nation.

This would require greater efforts by the Thai government to uphold the rule of law and guarantee equal access both to education and to employment opportunities that are sensitive to Thai Muslims' cultural rights and expressions. Accomplishing this would help contribute to the stability of Thailand and of the wider Southeast Asia region.

The writer is director of the Asia Foundation's International Relations Program in Washington. The views expressed here are his own.

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Yes, it is not new..

South of Thailand is the place where most of the Arms Dealers freely operate in this region. It is a fact that all countries in Asia are aware about.

Those extrem Muslims, LTTE (two most involved) are using South of Thailand as the base. Many Thai People involved in this racket and now, things have started to back fire.

It is very closer to Iraq. Today, many people in south are proud owners of an illegal weapon.

Classifying them under, Thai or Malaysian, or Muslim or LTTE or Terrorist or anything you wish is up to you. But everyone here know they have been doing this for a long time. Everyone know Thailand is one of the countries in the Drug Triangle.

The picture you see in rest of Thailand and south of Thailand are totally different.

Like Chicken Flu, they just closed the eyes to get rid of adverse publicity. People who earned from this have earned the money.

But the truth of the matter is, now they are enjoying the repercussions.

If I go out of the topic, even the present curfew for children, closing of night clubs all are results of this Closed eye policies.

They did it, and when the things go out of control, now screaming insane.

:o

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