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Building Peace and People's Security in Southeast Asia
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BUILDING PEACE AND PEOPLE'S SECURITY
IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Case Study on the Three Southern Provinces of Thailand

Ranee Hassarungsee
Chittpapat Batprakhon

Ekkarin Tuansiri
Social Agenda Working Group
Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute

Introduction



The ongoing conflicts and violence in the three southern provinces of Thailand which have been escalated since 2004 until present have resulted in innumerable deaths and injuries of civilians. Official statistics including death toll and injuries until December 2007 reached 8026 – out of which 2429 men killed, 4147 men injured, 210 women killed and 922 women injured. 57 children have died and 261 children aged between 1-15 suffered injuries. 30 children were together with their parents and saw their parents tortured or killed; the children managed to survive.

Many organizations including GOs and NGOs have come to the three southern provinces to work in response to this crisis. For instance, there are human rights and humanitarian organizations, social development, environmental and organizations which work on rehabilitation and housing projects. There are also organizations which work to empower women groups and children in the three southern provinces



The current socio-political situation in the southern border provinces

The Thaksin Shinnawatra government in 2005 enacted an Emergency Law that gave the prime minister the power to declare a tree-month-old emergency status in any area in the southern border provinces. The emergency period was extendable for three months at a time. According to the government, the law was the more precautious move compared to Martial Law used by the military. Several members of civil society sector and the academia expressed their disagreement to the law on the ground that it gave the prime minister too much power. In addition, Article 17 of the law violated human rights of the locals by giving impunity to government officials on the ground. This law was enacted in the situation where movement against Mr. Thaksin gained momentum in the country. Martial Law still remained active in the area despite the enactment of the Emergency Law.

After the coup d’ tat in September 2006 that brought down the Thaksin government, an Army-initiated-International Security Bill received cabinet approval on 19 June 2007. Again, a number of academics, human rights activists and media practitioners protested against it, saying that the bill would turn normal situations into emergency ones. It would pave ways for more military roles anytime and anywhere in the country without having to declare emergency status and without judicial scrutiny. State and military power has expanded, sometimes overlapping with each other, with the support from the three laws. At the same time, people’s political space has shrink. Family institution, local community and society in the three southern border provinces have been weakening by several factors.


Political turmoil at the center limited the efforts to solve problems in the south. The Surayut Chulanon government finally brought back three organizations to handle the situation

  1. The Internal Security Operation Command responsible for the overall security policy
  2. The Southern Border Province Administrative Centre working with people on the ground and good governance
  3. Civilian, Police and Military Joint Command Centre coordinating police and military forces as well as intelligence agencies

The Internal Security Operation Command acts as an umbrella organization for the other two. The elected government that came to power in 2008 left policy making on the southern border provinces into the hand of the military. Chief of Army held a position of the Internal Security Operation Command instead of the prime minister. That was because the government viewed the problems in the south only as security matters. Another reason was the confusing political situation in Bangkok and government’s attempt to maintain a good relationship with the military.

Since June 2007, the military has begun an intense measure of search and arrest, leading to a decrease of violent incidents. However, the average death toll and injury remain the same despite the fact that around 50,000-60,000 troops have been sent to the area and the increasing of annual military budget to 143 billion Baht. Previous military budget, which was around 80 billion Baht per year between 2000 and 2006, had been increased to 115 billion Baht in 2007 or after the coup. Security has indeed become a viable business.

A four-year-plan under Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda, which started in October 2007, is divided into two stages. The first stage of the plan, which covers the period of 2007 and 2008, focuses on ending violent incidents through intense military operations. From 2009 to 2010 it focuses on development and community strengthening. The structure of military operations in the south has been adjusted as follows:

The First Army Region (from the central part of the country) responsible for Narathiwat province

The Second Army Region (from the northeast) responsible for Pattani province

The Third Army Region (from the north) responsible for Yala province

The Forth Army Region (from the south) responsible for five districts in Songkhla province

While the Army explained that the structural adjustment reflected south Thailand as a priority of the Army Chief, some expressed doubts if it was driven from a need to share the huge interests from resource allocation to the south with different groups in the Army.

Armed forces

Rangers

Besides the police and military personal. It is a common practice for the Army to recruit rangers in order to increase its forces in the field. One reason is its convenience and lower costs. Rangers received lower salary than professional military officers while the establishment and abolishment of a ranger unit can be easily done.

One important reason for the army to recruit rangers for southern border area is its needs for people who know the location, local language and culture. But in reality only 30 percent of rangers working in the area are Thai Muslims of Malay ethnic. There was also a tendency that more people from outside the area would join in the October 2008 recruitment. The number of rangers in the area is estimated increase from 7,000 to 9,000.

Those rangers receive a 45-day training program. While they are often accused of violating human rights of the locals, is a high percentage of injury and death among them. A military officer who is responsible for eight ranger units said that he had dismissed six rangers in the past six months mostly due to drug problem. Initial operations done by rangers in the south turned out to be a severe damage especially the mistakes made during the transportation of protesters from Takbai district of Narathiwat province in October 2004 which indicated the incapability and brutality of ranger units.

Another example is the shooting and searching incident at a Pondok school in Taseh village on 9 March 2007 by Ranger Unit 4202. An investigation by the Parliamentary Committee on Southern Affairs later pointed out that the rangers shot at civilians without reasons. After the incident, several Pondok school children were asked by the insurgency to join them. Many professional military officers realize that such incident could drive people to cooperate with the insurgency.

Although ranger recruitment system was later developed and included criminal record checking, a policy to recruit relatives of victims of the violence is a risky one. The Army has admitted that some rangers had used their status and government weapons to attach on their personal enemy. The insurgency also used some rangers for their intelligence work. Therefore, more dependency on rangers might lead to bigger problems in the future.

Local Influential persons

In some areas, local government officials illegally utilize influential people to deal with villagers who are suspected to cooperate with the insurgency. There have been cases of parents of teenagers who involved in violent incidents and left their motorcycles as evidences were shot at after their families were tracked down. Such practice, aim to maintaining stability, ends up creating more instability. Local influential people also post a threat to villagers who disagree with government mega-projects in the area. These have created a factor for the expansion of violence.

Muslim extremist groups from outside the country

The Thai government insists that violence in the deep-south is a domestic problem that has no involvement of Muslim extremist groups abroad. Majority of analysts also view the root causes of insurgency activities in the area as a political and historical dispute that is different from the international Islamization movement.

However, more failure from the government side to stop the conflict provides more risk for such involvement. Information gathered by Indonesian and Malaysian agencies confirmed that different Ismlamic extremist groups had set up training camps within their countries and used them as a base to connect with terrorist groups in Pakistan and Afganistan.




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