Forgotten Crises: Thailand

Thailand’s southern states have been plagued by violence since 2004. Militant groups have launched a campaign of violence against the central government with accusations of discrimination against Muslims. The separatists have targeted civilians thought to be siding with the government, tolling up more than 3000 deaths since the violence first erupted. Heavy handed government efforts to fight force with force in the past have resulted in disaster, and a recent drive for peace has produced few results.

The Muslim population are concentrated in the southernmost states, among the poorest regions in the country, which has led to a backlash against the government, complaining they are deliberately disadvantaged compared to the rest of the (largely Buddhist) population. Attacks on civilians such as teachers, security personnel and even Buddhist monks are common, with attacks on schools (seen as anti-Islamist) creating a culture of fear in the region.

The military coup in 2006 led to further outbreaks of violence and more coordinated attacks on police stations and military barracks. The violence still simmers under the surface, with recent attacks on schools and drive-by shootings implicating government soldiers, militant groups and even civilians in the violence. Confusion reigns as both Muslims and Buddhists have been killed in the violence, with separatist groups coming into conflict with military forces who retain immunity from prosecution.

The government has attempted to launch a development plan, worth $1.58 billion in an attempt to secure peace in the poverty-stricken region. However, the International Crisis Group warns against hopes of a quick-fix solution to the violence: ‘This struggle, nominally between a Thai Buddhist state and a Malay Muslim insurgency, targets civilians of all religions. More than 3,400 people have been killed since the violence surged in 2004. There are more dead Muslim victims than Buddhists, and many of the slain Muslims were marked as “traitors” to Islam.’ The report warns that without addressing the political grievances that have fuelled the conflict, further repression of the Muslim-Malay population in the south will attract more recruits and generate more anger and violence.

Whilst there is currently no evidence of Al-Qaeda’s influence on the separatist movement, analysts feel that if the violence continues, it could attract terrorist groups as an ideal training ground for new recruits. It is nonetheless clear that this is a crisis that cannot be ignored, yet it barely makes it onto the back pages of international newspapers. I hope it won’t be left until it is too late.

Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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