The separatist violence in the Moslem south is winding down even if the main separatist groups are too divided (by what demands to make and settle for) to negotiate. In the last year, the dead or captured terrorists have included far fewer young men and opinion polls confirm that the separatist cause is less popular with young and that means fewer join, or remain in, the terrorist groups. Since mid-2018 there have been about a dozen violent separatist incidents in the south each month. About one separatist is killed and six arrested each month and nearly all of those identified are in their 30s or older and many confirm the difficulty in attracting new recruits. There are fewer attacks and less violence in general down south and most of the population prefers that.
The March 24 national elections will see democracy restored but the military government continues to attack pro-democracy politicians. Two heads of pro-democracy political parties have been charged with the offense of criticizing the military government on Internet social media. This is a common tactic but the courts are undermining it by scheduling the court hearings until after the elections. That means of the pro-democracy parties win a big enough victory they will be able to reverse some of the damage the military government has done in the last five years.
The generals feel their prospects in the election are good because of all this persecution of pro-democracy leaders and organizations and mainly because the economy is doing well. Thailand has the fastest growing economy in the region and is in the best economic shape in six years. The election will decide how important that was in making the pro-military politicians attractive to voters.
Kashmir Collateral Damage
Thailand has resumed airline flights to Europe after delaying dozens of them for over twelve hours because of the airspace closures in some parts of India and Pakistan. These two nations have had some recent aerial combat and there is a threat of escalation. Those flights are being rerouted, which takes time to obtain permission to land at other airports (to refuel or discharge passengers) and fly through other nation’s airspace (mainly China.) These changes may last a while because Indian and Pakistani warplanes have clashed in Kashmir and both countries have imposed bans on commercial aircraft in nearby areas. Thailand has a lot of air traffic with Europe because its southern resorts are popular with Europeans. More than 4,000 passengers were delayed at airports or at their hotels when they got the news of the delays.
February 26, 2019: In the south (Narathiwat province), two policemen were kidnapped and later found dead. At first, it was unclear if the culprits were Islamic terrorists or personal enemies of the policemen. Further investigation indicated it was a separatist or Islamic terrorist attack. In nearby Yala province, a bomb killed a soldier and wounded two others. Because there has been less and less separatist or Islamic terrorist violence in the south all violence that is not clearly ideological has to be carefully investigated to find out if the perpetrators were simply common criminals or personal enemies.
February 14, 2019: The military controlled government is seeking approval for a $7 billion defense budget in 2019. The defense budget has gradually increased nearly 17 percent since the military took power in 2014 and the upcoming elections will replace military rule and try to cut the defense spending. Much of the increased defense spending since 2014 went to purchase weapons and equipment elected government refused to order. Since 2014 the military government has ordered three submarines from China, as well as dozens of Chinese tanks and other weapons. South Korean T-50 trainer/attack jet aircraft were bought as well. Purchases from the United States continued, including UH-60 helicopters.
February 11, 2019: In the south (Narathiwat province), troops found the jungle hideout of an Islamic terrorist group that had been responsible for several recent murders (including two Buddhist monks). There was a gun battle and two of the Islamic terrorists were killed and the rest, including several wounded (according to the blood trails), got away. There may have been as many as a dozen men in the camp and they had to abandon a lot of equipment and other evidence which, in addition to two dead ones, will help identify who was there and what village or neighborhood they are from. This group as believed responsible for a lot of the separatist violence in the province over the last year.
February 6, 2019: The army ordered 39 more Chinese VN1 armored personnel carriers (for $2 million each) to replace elderly M-113 tracked and V-150 wheeled models. This is in addition to the initial 2017 order for 34 VN1s. This vehicle is the export version of the ZBL 09, which is a 21 ton 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle that has a crew of three and carries seven passengers. It's amphibious and has a top water speed of 8 kilometers an hour. The Thais ordered the infantry carrier version which has a turret with a 30mm autocannon and a 7.62mm machine-gun. The ZBL 09 entered service in 2009 for several infantry brigades equipped to operate somewhat like the American Stryker brigades. China has been developing new wheeled armored vehicles since the late 1990s. Until recently, these were all based on Russian designs. The ZBL 09, however, borrows more from the West. The Thai military defended the purchase pointing out that the VN1 was cheaper than comparable Western vehicles.
February 4, 2019: In the south (Narathiwat province), a policeman was ambushed near his headquarters and wounded. A passing civilian was killed and the shooter (or shooters) fled. There were two groups of attackers, one to fire on the policeman and others to place nail spikes on the road to slow down any police pursuit.