Thailand: Curing Southern Discomfort


January 4, 2013: Today is the ninth anniversary of the start of the Islamic terrorism campaign in the south. The unrest in the south has been going on sporadically ever since Thailand gained control over the area (and more to the south) centuries ago. For most of that time the Malays down there were independent or allied with (and paid tribute to) Thailand. But in 1909, Britain, which had conquered most of the Malay territory to the south, signed a treaty with Thailand that left the Thais owning the three southern provinces. At the time the Malays there considered this preferable to being ruled by the British. During World War II (1939-45) the Japanese took control of Malaysia and a local rebel movement sought to create an independent Malay state, incorporating the three Thai Moslem provinces as well. This did not happen, and the British regained control of Malay in 1945, and granted the area independence (as Malaysia) in 1957. Unrest continued in the three Malay provinces in Thailand but was usually low key and considered a police matter. What made the current violence so severe was the addition of Islamic radicalism (instead of mainly Malay nationalism). The basic problem is that the Buddhist ethnic Thais had a hard time getting along with the Moslem ethnic Malays. But until the Islamic radicals came along, urging the use of terrorism, the independence movement was not all that violent.

That changed on January 4th 2004, when Islamic terrorists raided a military warehouse (for ammo and some weapons) and set off a widespread (in the south) campaign of Islamic terrorism. Since then there have been 5,000 killed in the south, along with nearly 10,000 wounded. There have been over 11,000 violent incidents, most of them involving property damage or non-fatal assaults. The "terrorists" are a combination of Islamic radicals (most of the two million people in the three southern provinces are Moslem), Malay nationalists (nearly all the Moslems are ethnic Malay, not Thai, which 97 percent of Thailand's population is), and gangsters (smuggling has long been a big business down there). The ethnic Thai majority refused (as they usually do) to back down in the face of Malay Moslem violence, and now the Moslem minority is increasingly hostile to the Islamic terrorists and cooperating with the police. This happened gradually, as it became obvious over the last nine years that the Thai government was never going to give in. As a result of this, the militants turned on the Moslem civilians, which was a downward spiral that is gradually destroying support for the Islamic radicals. The national government has also sent more economic aid to the south and improved the educational system. The army claims that, in the last nine years, the number of Islamic militants in the south has been reduced more than half, to under 5,000. The violence has also declined, but all this is mainly because more and more southerners are fed up with years of violence.

Another problem in the south is that, since the 1970s, the government has used a lottery for selecting which civil servants (teachers, police, health workers) will serve in the south. For most ethnic Thais working in the south is unpopular, and for teachers it’s downright dangerous. The Moslem Malays in the south are alien and often unfriendly to ethnic Thais. The Malays sense that the Thais don’t want to be there. The Thais sometimes openly castigate the southerners for not paying more attention to education so that more of these civil service jobs could be handled by Malays. When the terrorism broke out nine years ago, service in the south became even more unpopular, especially as more police were needed. Thai civil servants sought to end the lottery and simply select the most qualified people for jobs down there. But that would open the selection process to corruption, which the lottery largely eliminated. Now the pressure is on to combine selection with the lottery because some specialists (who cannot be persuaded to volunteer) are needed. Meanwhile, attitudes towards education and government service are changing in the south, and this is one of the things the Islamic radicals are opposing.

December 30, 2012: Police in the south were alerted to be on the lookout for six stolen cars, believed to be held by Islamic terrorists for use as car bombs during the New Year’s celebrations (which attract a lot of foreign tourists). There was little Islamic terrorism during the New Year’s celebrations




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