Thailand: Bloody Border Battles Back


April 23, 2011: Early in the day, fighting resumed on the Cambodian border, at two different disputed temples, about 150 kilometers from each other. Seven soldiers were wounded, and thousands of civilians fled from nearby villages. Apparently, the Thais believe the violence might go on for a while, and provided trucks to help civilians get out of the area. The disputed temple is in the southeast, due east of Bangkok. The border dispute has been quiet for two months, but peace talks have not gone anywhere. On both sides, particularly with the Thais, nationalism and unwillingness to appear "weak" in dealing with a border dispute, prevents the matter from getting resolved. The Thai armed forces are larger and more effective, but even Thai nationalists don't want a war with Cambodia. That would be too expensive in terms of lives, money and bad publicity. Cambodia, which is very poor, and corrupt, compared to Thailand, knows it cannot defeat its mighty neighbor, but does not want to just roll over in order to settle the dispute.

The military believes that, in the first three months of the year, they have persuaded 80 percent (1,692 individuals) of Islamic radicals in the south to accept an amnesty. Most of these surrenders were negotiated via village and clan elders. While violence in the south is down over the past year, the government is still acknowledging that there are over 400 Islamic radicals out there, and these are the hard core.  The smuggling and drug gangs are still there, and many of those who surrendered, also worked for the gangs, and apparently continue to do so. The security forces don't care so much. The priority now is to stop the religious terrorism. Smuggling and drugs can be gone after later.

The government promised to hold fair elections in two months, hoping to defuse the growing conflict between royalists (who currently control the government) and populists (the majority, who are angry with the royalists using force to maintain a minority government). The military leadership prefers to maintain the current, unrepresentative, royalist government. But the royalist politicians don't believe many of the troops, who are populists, would obey their officers if ordered to kill populist civilians. In other words, most, but not all, royalists (and non-populists, especially the educated urbanites) are not willing to risk civil war over this. But some of the generals are, and are not keeping quiet about it.

April 22, 2011: The armed forces were put on alert, in response to renewed fighting on the Cambodian border. There were six dead on each side. Cambodia accused Thai troops of entering part of the disputed Ta Moan Temple complex. This is about a hundred kilometers from the disputed temple that was the scene of fighting two months ago. The Thai Navy has sent major warships towards the Cambodian coast.

April 18, 2011: In the south, someone attacked village defense volunteers, killing one of the "Rangers" as well as two teenage boys. Later in the day, a bomb went off elsewhere in the south, killing a ranger, wounding six, along with 19 civilians. Security cameras caught the bombers in action, and police are believed to have identified some of the terrorists.

April 12, 2011:  The government extended emergency rule, in force since 2005 in the three southern Moslem provinces, for another three months. The emergency rule makes it easier to search for and arrest terrorism suspects. But it is unpopular, and the government keeps saying that the rules will be lifted "soon." The security forces want the rules to stay until the Islamic terrorism is gone.

April 10, 2011:  Thousands of red shirt populists assembled in the capital to commemorate the one year anniversary of the worst political violence in nearly two decades. A year ago, nearly 900 red shirt demonstrators in the capital were injured (26 dead) and many more arrested, as nationwide rallies were held to demand fair elections, or else.

April 9, 2011:  In the south, a tip from locals led police to the jungle hideout of a wanted terrorist (Ma Dueramae). The suspect refused to surrender, and was killed in the subsequent gun battle. His two associates escaped.



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