Southeast Asia is often viewed as a dynamic region, home to several of Asia’s tiger economies. But look a bit closer, and the region is replete with internal tensions—some between countries, but most within countries. April’s events in the region are illustrative of so many of these tensions. In every case, they reflect deep fault lines that have existed for many years. Resolving them will take time and require extraordinary and sustained leadership.
Thailand has witnessed an upsurge in violence in its unsettled south. More repression will not work. The government and the military need to adopt a different strategy.
On March 31, two separate and apparently coordinated bomb explosions killed fourteen people and wounded hundreds more in Yala Province in southern Thailand, making March the region’s most violent month in recent years 73 violent incidents led to 56 deaths and injured 547 others1. These incidents mark a worrying deterioration in the long-simmering conflict in the troubled, Malay-dominated southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani. Since the insurgency flared in January 2004, it has claimed the lives of some 5,000 people and injured over 8,000
In last year’s election campaign, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra opened the possibility of some form of autonomy for the three southern provinces as well as including them in a special economic zone.
Police Colonel Tawee Sodsong, the prime minister’s recently appointed secretary general of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, also raised the possibility of some form of self-rule and lifting the emergency decree that allows detaining suspects for more than thirty days and gives government official immunity from prosecution. These tentative signals, however, were dismissed by Army Commander General Prayuth as contrary to the army’s position of an “indivisible” Thailand.
The media also reported that ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the current prime minister’s brother, was in Malaysia recently for talks with Prime Minister Najib Razak, where he also met with exiled Malay leaders for so-called peace negotiations. If true, it is difficult to imagine a less likely approach to peace, since it was Thaksin Shinawatra’s heavy-handed actions as the country’s leader in 2004 that fanned the flames of insurgency in the first place.
Thailand’s southern insurgency has never been jihadist or religious in nature.
It has always been about alienation—economic and cultural—as well as perceived social and economic injustice.
The Thai government and the army must recognize this. It will be almost impossible to turn the clock back to the days when southern Thailand was peaceful without a formal political agreement. A military solution has been tried for many years and failed. Indeed, all it seems to have done is further alienate the local people.
More repression will not work.
Prime Minister Yingluck’s desire to bring about an end to the insurgency in southern Thailand should be taken at face value. But her room for maneuvering is limited by the army on one side and the shadow of her brother on the other. Both should back off and give her space to bring about a lasting peace. She has been right in seeking the support of Prime Minister Najib to achieve this. It is in the interest of both countries to bring this long-simmering conflict to an end.
There is little alternative left apart from direct or indirect negotiations with the insurgents for example, by bringing in an international mediator, such as the United Nations and the final agreement will very likely have to include a certain degree of autonomy, a recognition of Thailand’s diversity, and measures that support the economic development of the affected provinces.
The Clubhouse challenge to digital authoritarianism in Thailand
Launched in 2020, Clubhouse is an audio-based social media platform which allows users to create groups and share stories. Each member can schedule and host a virtual room, and then decide who can speak.
Biden recalibrates Trump’s approach to East Asia
Donald Trump seriously degraded the United States’ role in the region, helping Beijing to escalate the most hostile and confrontational US–China relationship in 50 years.
President Joe Biden has much repair and restoration work to do in East Asia. Donald Trump seriously degraded the United States’ role in the region, helping Beijing to escalate the most hostile and confrontational US–China relationship in 50 years.
Subscribe via Email
Thai fruit exports to FTA markets up 107 percent
China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Australia and Chile are top importers of Thai fruits, especially fresh durian,...
Digital Revolution and Repression in Myanmar and Thailand
Activists have also proactively published social media content in multiple languages using the hashtags #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar and #WhatsHappeningInThailand to boost coverage...
3 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Baht Right Now
Probably one of the most important factors for the rise of the Baht is the continued weakness of the US...
Will Thailand’s plan for quarantine-free tourism set a global trend?
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the quarantine-exemption measures implemented in Phuket will be extended to five other key...
Thailand Approves Latest Economic Relief Package for Businesses
Some 250 billion baht (US$8 billion) was allocated for soft loans while the remaining 100 billion baht (US$3.2 billion) will...
Southeast Asia remains a hot spot for plastic pollution
The use of plastics is deeply embedded in our daily lives, in everything from grocery bags and cutlery to water...