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Half a decade of violence and conflict resolution amid confusion


Srisompop Jitpiromsri

Deep South Watch


During five years of the resurging violence from January 2004 to December 2008, there were 8,541 violent incidents, causing 3,287 deaths and 5,409 injuries. Although violence seems to have declined since June 2007 when over 60,000 military and security forces were deployed in the deep South, the trend still fluctuates and continues. Violence has been reflected in many forms of physical attacks including shooting, bombing, arson and vandalism. 

Violence peaked to the top in 2005 with 2,297 incidents, followed by year 2007 with 1,861 incidents and 2004 with 1,850 incidents. Daily violence rate was recorded at 6.3, 5.1 and 5.06 incidents a day respectively. The rate in 2008 dropped sharply to 2 incidents although violence intensity still remained high. 


Policy, strategy and investment for security building


Oppressive military operations supplemented with development measures played a significant role in curbing violence recently. However, the policy was costly and might have created unfavorable consequences. The military started the combative measures to counteract the insurgents' extreme brutality in early 2007. Violence became particularly intense in May and June 2007 when three insurgency attacks in Narathiwat and Yala claimed the lives of 25 security officers. The military then declared an operation to curb the area of Bannang Sata and Sungai Padi districts in Yala and Narathiwat. The main objective was to search targeted villages to arrest core militants or push them out of the community. Further sweeping arrests were also made based on the information extracted from suspects who had been previously arrested. 


To implement such a large scale operation, more than 60,000 security officers were deployed and around 109.296 billion baht budget has been allocated for financial year 2004-2009, of which 81.748 billion baht has been spent. Total number of incidents in 2008 was recorded at 718, dropped by 1,238 from an average annual record during 2004-2007 at 1,956. This means it costs around 88.28 million baht to decrease one violent incident. If the government is to implement the same policy to douse the fire completely, it will need to put the same amount of money to curb the existing violence plus 235.984 billion baht in addition or 345.280 billion baht in total. 


The calculation is based on official figures on security keeping only. On the other hand, the actual undisclosed cost could be double, which may push the future security investment much higher. Another crucial consideration is that repressive military operations could lead to human rights violation and mistreatment by the authorities. And if the violations and abuses occur in high number and are systematic, the pressure may stir up the people's outrage and resistance against the state, which would prevent the unrest from declining as targeted. 


Qualitative violence 


Although the number of violent incidents continuously dropped since the oppressive operation launch in June 07, the number of casualties fluctuated unpredictably. This may prove a challenge for the authorities as despite massive forceful efforts, insurgency in the recent months might have become qualitative violence which had more focused targeting and caused more deaths and injuries in each attack.


An important consideration for this year is that the military oppressive operations might have been successful in limiting the movement of the insurgents but have not delivered a political victory or a structural change of the conflict. Any misstep by the security forces could result in the militants turning to massive attacks such as a car bomb to maintain the level of fear or send out a political message through violence. As long as the state cannot identify the symbol of the struggle and what the movement really wants, the conflict is still difficult to solve. The decline of violence at some stage may only be a tactical adjustment. 


Five years of conflict resolution strategies


After the resurgence of insurgency in 2004, the violence became more intense and systematic in 2005 due to severe mistakes in policy-making by Thaksin Shinawatra's administration. In 2006, analysis showed that the violence was systematic and structural, not random attacks without direction. It reflected that a movement exists and is organized in instigating violence across the region. The movement has its political discourse, ideology, motivation and strategy in carrying out insurgency. 


Also in 2006, violence expanded into various forms of political demonstration such as protests by women and children against oppressive measures by the state. It showed that the authorities must be cautious and wise in using politics to solve the problem. Politics here means one of identity as the insurgents have a discourse and ideology to fight for their ethnicity, history and religion altogether. The state must limit its use of power not to violate the law otherwise the situation may be led into a civil war and genocide between people of different ethnicities, which is the movement's aim to escalate the conflict to the international forum. 


In 2007, violence continued despite the deposition of the civilian government of Thaksin Shinawatra by a military coup. A major political step was taken when Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont apologized to the Malay Muslims but the reconciliation approaches did not deliver any concrete result. After a string of brutal attacks by the militants, the state reiterated with sweeping and forceful operations under the authority of the emergency decree. The measures resulted in violence declining in the second half of 2007 and 2008. 


The discourse of the government policy has also changed from labeling the militants as petty criminals during 2004-2005 to a battle of ideology in the recent years. Recent statement from authorities has always focused on targeting politics, mindset and feeling in order to solve the conflict. However, the actual situation in 2008 was that of confused politics leading confused military tactics. The political tension in Bangkok distracted all attention of the government, which left the military to take total control of the situation in the southernmost provinces. 


The decline of violence was likely a result of effective military tactics which limited the insurgents' mobility, sweeping arrests of militant suspects and better intelligence. However, Defence Deputy Permanent Secretary Gen Vipoj Srinual said the downturn of the statistics could be an indicator of the tactical dynamic only, not the strategic change . Strategies of the two sides are still counterbalancing each other, without anyone's decisive victory. Therefore, a recommended solution for now is to promote justice and strictly implement the policy of politics leading military forces. A political reform should be considered as part of the solution to develop the administrative system to suit the locals' needs as well as their cultural and social uniqueness. There should also be an opportunity for political dialogues for the movement and different groups of people to discuss about the conflict. A political approach to the conflict will help minimize loss and security cost to restore sustainable peace in th e region of cultural diversity.