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Thailand: Army attack in south puts peace talks in doubt

7th Apr 2016
Thailand: Army attack in south puts peace talks in doubt

By Max Constant

 

BANGKOK (AA): A suspected insurgent was killed early Thursday during a military operation in Thailand’s majority Muslim south, amid increasing skepticism about the credibility of ongoing peace talks between the military government and rebel groups.

The chief of the Saiburi district police station in Pattani province told Anadolu Agency that “a special forces military unit launched a night raid on several houses of suspected insurgents in Saiburi”.

“An exchange of gunfire followed and the dead body of a suspect was found 50 meters from one of the houses, along with a .38 mm gun,” Police Colonel Panya Karawan said.

“The suspect had a history of contacts with the rebel groups.”

The encounter was the latest in a series of almost daily violent incidents — from drive-by shootings to bomb explosions — destabilizing the country’s southernmost region, where Malay Muslims account for 80 percent of the population.

More than 6,500 people — including Buddhists and Muslims — have been killed and over 11,000 injured since the insurgency intensified in 2004 after a lull of more than a decade.

After a marked decrease in violence in 2015, the region has been rocked by an increasing number of incidents since the beginning of the year — with several organized attacks including a March 13 daytime raid on a hospital in Narathiwat province and a car bomb in Pattani on Feb. 27.

Analysts consider the latest developments and a recent statement by Mara Patani, an umbrella organization allegedly representing an array of rebel groups involved in the talks, to be pouring cold water on the effectiveness of the negotiations.

At the end of March, the organization denied involvement in both the Feb. 27 and March 13 attacks, putting at stake the credibility of its claims to have effective control over rebel operations on the ground.

Don Pathan, an expert on the insurgency, wrote in a column in The Nation newspaper Tuesday that the rise in violence has confirmed doubts about the progress of the talks.

“For those invested in the peace dialogue, the drop in violence was proof of the talks’ traction. But separatist sources and other close observers insisted that the lull meant nothing, pointing out that as long as the insurgents still existed, the state hadn’t won,” he said.

“Now, with the return of almost daily violence to this historically contested region, notions of a link between the peace talks and the insurgency have been shattered,” he added.

The viewpoint was echoed in other Thai media.

“A rash of insurgent attacks… attest to the fact there are flaws in the military strategy and measures to achieve peace in this restive region,” Achara Ashayagachat wrote in a Bangkok Post article Tuesday.

The southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between Malay Muslims living in the southern region and the Thai central state where Buddhism is considered the de-facto national religion.

Armed insurgent groups were formed in the 1960s after the then-military dictatorship tried to interfere in Islamic schools, but the insurgency faded in the 1990s.

In 2004, a rejuvenated armed movement emerged in the confrontation — one of the deadliest low-intensity conflicts on the planet.

 

[Photo: Bomb attack in Pattani, south Thailand on 25 May 2014. Photographer: Don Pathan/AA]

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