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Center for Conflict Studies and Cultural Diversity [CSCD]

 
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Srisompob Jitpiromsri


Center for Conflict Studies and Cultural Diversity (CSCD)


Deep South Watch (DSW)


 


Violence and conflict in Thailand’s Deep South have unfolded from different factors. Central to these factors is identity politics, which is the claim to power of a particular identity, be it national, clan, religious or linguistic. For years, Thai state had drastically rearranged and transformed Patani’s elite and political structures, particularly governance, Islamic education and legal systems, into more secularized, Thai-oriented system. The violence is essentially a renewed version of the older separatist struggle of the 1960s and 1970s. How far the current groups are linked to the previous generations of insurgents remains an open question, but the root-caused problematic embodies the same dimension of conflicts between the centralized state and the resistant movements representing interests and grievances of ethnic minority, the multifaceted state-minority conflict.


 


Major characteristics of the Deep South conflict are pertinent to the defined subnational conflict, armed conflict over control of a subnational territory. In this violent conflict situation, one or many armed resistant movements had turned to apply violence in the attempt to win the contesting political authority and replace the lack of state legitimacy with self-rule governance[1]. In other words, central to the chaotic situations is ‘legitimacy deficit’ of the Thai government in the region. There will also be no resolution in the Deep South until there is trust between the people and the authorities. As an expert puts it, it is impossible to get people to accept legitimacy of state through violence or military force. The only way Thailand can address these complex political problems is to win people over, making them feel that they are participating effectively in what is going on through building the political space.[2]


 


New development, after 10 years of violence, that signifies the apparent effort for political solution ensues when, on February 28th, 2013, the Royal Thai Government represented by the National Security Council (NSC) and the most powerful resistance movement group, the National Revolutionary Front (BRN), signed a General Consensus on Peace Dialogue Process. The event came into existence with the active support of the Malaysian government, which took the function as a facilitator. Some critics said that the peace process was “starting off on the wrong foot”[3] and, because of the shaky, unsettled peace process, nevertheless identified the Deep South conflict in Thailand as the “absence of a political transition.”[4]


 


However, the voice of civil society movement on the ground still represents some optimistic connotation. The dynamic of the peace process has widened space for the discussion of contested political issues relating to the southern conflict organized by both government agencies as well as civil society groups inside and outside the southernmost region. This development has produced a constructive atmosphere for peaceful conflict resolution.[5] All things considered, it is more sensible to claim that, given the number of lives that have been lost in this terrible insurgency, any peace process is better than no peace process.[6]


 


Still Be the Protracted Conflict


 


Pattern of Southern violence over 10 years is characterized by the uncountable uncertainty and variations. It is noticeable that violence forces behind the troubled region tend to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by other force (s).


If the trend of violence still holds onto the same shape, it means that the local conflict and violence have long been constituted the perpetuation of conflict. From comparative experiences, many conflicts become less a matter of the original and underlying troubles, but more a matter of becoming trapped in an extended action-reaction sequence in which today’s conflict behavior by one side is a response to yesterday’s by the adversary[7].


 


On the other hand, there is “inertia” or "innate forces" inherent in conflict processes, which resisted any acceleration. After the waves of violence started in 2004 and continued trend onward, evidently, there has been no such thing as the acceleration of violence since 2008. The conflict dynamics on the ground embody the contesting forces from society and the polity that gradually contain the escalation ups and downs to a certain level. Endogenous mechanisms, thus, emerged in different formations including the peace process, the changes of government policy and the evolving movements of civil society[8].


 


Latest statistics of the Deep South unrest during 10 years from January 2004 to April 2014 showed that the total number of incidents of violence was increasing up to 14,128 with about 17,005 deaths and injuries altogether. The statistics also showed that of the 6,097 deaths, most of the preys of fatalities were Muslims with 3,583 people, approximately 58.55 percent of the deaths, while there were 2,359 Buddhist deaths, approximately 38.69 percent.  On the contrary, there were about 10,908 injuries, most of which were identified as Buddhists, about 6,462 individuals, 59.24 percent, while there were 3,475 injured Muslims, or approximately 31.86 percent. When compared with the monthly incidents of violence, the fatalities and injuries temded to be higher apparently since July 2007, as a result of large-scale military campaign to crackdown on the unrest awhile after the military coup in September 2006.


 


This had led to the severe ‘surround-and-search operations’ enforced under the provision of the martial law and the emergency decree initiated in 2005, as well as the detentions of more than 4,000 people, most of which were quickly released later. The insurgents, consequently, transformed their operational tactics to focusing on specific target, civilians and military ones, which had affected the higher casualties than frequencies of incidents, a so-called ‘qualitative violence.’[9]


 


The statistics reveals that, after 2007, the number of incidents decreased, but the remaining attacks caused a higher numbers of deaths and injuries. Consequently, the casualties of people on the ground had been constant. In terms of the pattern of violence, it is obvious that while the number of incidents differed significantly by month, the number of deaths and injuries became higher from late 2007 onwards[10]. Implication is that the outright use of security-military-approach to solve the complex political conflict could plausibly lead to both positive effect and negative boomerang effects. However, the adverse effects of military-oriented approach in the Deep South run deep if one considered about the consequences to families of the losses encompassing 30,435 people, members of the families of the demises, and 54,540 people of the families of the injuries, 85,025 people altogether[11]


 




 




 


On the other hand, the trend-line of the Deep South violence seems to vary and fluctuate in a certain way formulating distinct characteristics.  The situation was “volatile, confusing and complex, and thus there was a high chance of escalation.”


Nevertheless, like the law of physics, violent forces tend to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by other force (s). In recent years, the INTRINSIC COUNTER-BALANCED FORCES have also been developed; encompassing politics lead military approach of the government agencies, the human rights movements, the growing and strengthening capacity of civil society organizations, and the initiatives of peace processes[12].


 


For the security agencies on the ground, the message from their experiences over 10 years is clear that strong but delicate security reforms and a political approach should be the central strategy. Political solutions coupled with security reforms are the critical factors to gradually improve the violent situation. Political dialogue and decentralization are the keywords for a political approach that can solve the problem of legitimacy. For security reform, a crucial issue is effective coordination between civilian and military agencies in the security administration. Another plausible approach is the managed process of moving toward more professional and accountable security arrangements[13].   


 


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