Will the Thai government end the violence in southern regions?

Violent incidents from southern insurgents were down in 2017. Does this mean the Thai government is closer to bringing peace to the south?

By Oliver Ward

In the last week of 2017, Thai authorities arrested 15 insurgents. The men all had links to insurgents operating in the southern Thailand. The Thai authorities suspect two of the men of plotting an attack on Phang-Nga province. They were planning to disrupt the New Year’s celebrations. Lt. Col. Weerasak Srithong said, “we suspect they have links to Deep South insurgents who came here to do attacks during New Year.”

The arrests are a sharp reminder of the threat posed by Malay-Muslim separatists. Peace talks are moving painfully slow. The Thai government are still some way from making peace with the separatists.

There were less violent incidents in 2017 than in previous years

2017 had the lowest number violent incidents in the deep south for more than a decade. Insurgents carried out 588 violent incidents in southern Thailand in 2017. In 2016 there were 816. In 2015 there were 947.

Source: DSID

However, it would be a mistake to interpret the decline in violent incidents as progress. The decline is not a signal that the government are closer to a peace agreement. Two of the founders of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebel group died between 2015 and 2017. Their deaths prompted a leadership transition in 2017. This is the likely reason behind the lull in attacks.

There is also less need for violence. Many Buddhists have left the insurgent stronghold regions of the south. Consequently, BRN has less need to target civilians. Its main target is now Thai military and security forces.

Division on both sides hamper peace talks

The BRN rebels want to involve the international community in the peace talks. BRN’s Doonloh Waemano raised this issue on several occasions over the last six months.

Zamzamin arranged for Doonloh to meet the Thai chief negotiator Aksara Kerdpol. The meeting will take place in Indonesia. Neither side has agreed on a date yet.

Many in the Thai government disagree with the decision to meet BRN. The Thai government is already in peace talks with MARA Patani. MARA Patani is an umbrella separatist organisation. Many members of the Thai government would prefer to see BRN come under MARA Patani’s umbrella. They only want to negotiate with BRN through MARA Patani.

Some in BRN have expressed an interest in joining the peace talks. But the Dewan Penilian Parti (DPP) governs the BRN decision-making. The whole DPP has not collectively agreed to join the MARA Patani peace talks.

The government is not in a rush to make a deal

The Thai military has accused 10 local politicians of promoting unrest in the south. 4th Army Commander Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich accused the politicians of hiring insurgents to carry out attacks. He believes they encouraged the violence to deter foreign investment. Foreign investment threatens their own personal business interests.

General Prayut’s government is not under pressure to bring a swift end to the conflict. Violent attacks were down in 2017. He is content to continue with his two-pronged approach. He wants to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Malay-Muslim separatists. He wants to win them over through economic means. His primary strategy is to improve the economy of the southern states.

He is complimenting this with intensified policing on the ground. The police set up more roadblocks and checkpoints across the south in 2017. The hope is that this will make it harder for the insurgents to expand their violent attacks.

The Thai government remains a long way off bringing peace to the deep south. It refuses to discuss the historical root of the problem with insurgent groups. Prayut’s two-pronged approach treats the symptoms. It does nothing to cure the disease. It is time everyone in the Thai government worked together to facilitate peace. Without it, the peace talks are doomed to stall indefinitely.