Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Modern History of the Rebellion

As the signs of Southern unrest began to appear Thaksin’s only solution was to flood the South with combat troops – not reinstate the SBPPC. Fourth Army soldier on patrol with a Buddhist monk - Pattani. 2006.

The recent history of rebellion begins with the election of the Thai Rak Thai political party and its billionaire leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin’s rise to power was based upon populist rhetoric and his support base was primarily rural, and specifically the rural poor.

As Thaksin was busy wooing Thais in the central and northern regions he was quietly alienating the Southern residents.

One of the many criticisms of his tenure, and a particular tactical blunder, was the dismantling the long standing security force know as the Southern Border Provinces Peace-Building Command (SBPPC).

The SBPPC had long been credited with keeping a lasting peace through its highly specific understanding of the challenges facing Southern governance, its ability to gain local trust, and to mediate conflict between the state and the South though peaceful means.

As the signs of Southern unrest began to appear Thaksin’s only solution was to flood the South with combat troops – not reinstate the SBPPC.

The steady flow of military strength over the last two years transformed the South into a highly militarized war zone.

Combat troops poured into the streets, sandbagged road blocks controlled traffic, Buddhist wats (temples) were transformed into fortified military bases, and the local police began to resemble swat teams clad in black bullet proof vests and bristling with new assault rifles and grenade launchers.

The threat of violence that had once been subdued by a small intelligence force was replaced by daily violence aggravated by a large and often clumsy combat force.

The view from the South, regarding the large number of armed troops, has been extremely negative.

Either for Malay-Muslims or Thai Buddhists, there has been a near uniform agreement that heavy militarization is not just ineffective but does more to instigate violence.

The Thai Buddhists (and also the sizable ethnic Chinese population) are now faced with the very real threat that troops sent to protect them are, in fact, attracting unwanted attention.

The concern is not just that troops draw violent attacks from militants but they also force a division based upon ethnic and religious lines.

If the troops are associated with the Thai-Buddhists there is an accentuated partitioning of ethnic/religious groups that had once coexisted.

How the Malay-Muslims are weathering the military occupation is much more worrisome.

The large military force, according to Southern residents, is incapable of distinguishing between the minority of violent militants and the majority of peaceful residents.

The result has been a widespread mistrust between the Malay-Muslim population and the government of Thailand.

Coupled with the sense of persecution in the Malay-Muslim community has been numerous reports of gross human rights violations. Reports of residents disappearing and extra judicial killings have been daily events in the conflict.

The mistrust between the Malay-Muslims and the government has not only created the dichotomy of an ‘ethnic/religious minority vs. government’ situation but provides an endless supply of disenfranchised residents that are turning to militant groups to express their feelings.

Essentially, militarization has not prevented violence but has encouraged it.

Many Thai Buddhists claim that their safety has been compromised and many Malay-Muslims claim they are being persecuted.

The heavy military presence has resulted in a forced division of ethnic/religious groups which is precisely the goal that militants are espousing.

Thaksin's government has not only ignited wide-spread discontent in the South but has essentially orchestrated and fuelled the rebellion it claims to be combating.

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