วันเสาร์, สิงหาคม 13, 2559

Bombs, facts, and myths in southern Thailand

13 AUG, 2016

New Mandala

Truth shouldn’t also be a casualty after Thailand’s 10-12 August bombings.

It is no surprise that Thai authorities go out of their way to rule out Malay-Muslim separatists as potential perpetrators of the string of bombs in the upper south on 10-12 August. It is after all what they always do.

It is more surprising that several experts make similar claims based on myths about the southern Thai conflict, while disregarding equally important facts about recent events in the border provinces.

Fact: southern militants launched a sustained bombing campaign timed to the referendum.

The first 10 days of August saw 50 bomb attacks in the southern border provinces. To make it clear that the violence was related to the 7 August referendum, the insurgents also sprayed anti-constitution graffiti in 18 locations.

This might have helped to sway public opinion in the south against the constitution and contributing to voters in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat rejecting the draft referendum.

Source: Deep South Incident Database.

While southern militants were busy placing an average of five bombs a day, no other anti-government groups resorted to violence during this period. This should make the southern militants key suspects if the August 10-12 bombings in the upper south is indeed related to the passing of the junta backed constitution.

Myth: Southern militants don’t target tourists.

Contrary to common claims, the southern insurgents have a history of directly targeting tourists. High profile events include the bomb at Lee Garden hotel in Hat Yai killing several foreigners and injuring more than 400, an earlier bomb at Hat Yai airport, the bomb at the central shopping mall on Koh Samui in April last year, and numerous bombs against entertainment venues frequented by Malaysian tourists in the seedy border towns Sungai Kolok, Sadaoand Betong.

Myth: Southern militants don’t act outside the southern border provinces.

In addition to the Koh Samui blast last year, two bombs in 2013 was linked to southern separatist groups. First the bombing in front of Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok in May and then a foiled car bomb at a the Phuket Town police station at the end of the year.

While it is true that the vast majority of the violence has been concentrated to the southern border provinces, the separatist groups do not lack capacity to carry out bombings in tourist areas in the upper south.

Southern Thailand was rocked by a total of 63 bombs during 1-13 August. Focusing only on the 13 explosives targeting the upper south during the latter part of the period, while disregarding the 50 events in the southernmost border provinces, clearly plays into the hands of Thai authorities.

At this point there is no conclusive evidence pointing to a single group behind recent bombs in the upper south. Thai authorities have mobilised the full force of their propaganda machinery to convince their citizens and the international community that southern separatist groups had nothing to do with the bombs targeting foreign tourists.

The role of analysts and researchers should be to question the official line and not to repeat baseless claims about the character of the southern insurgency.

Anders Engvall is a research fellow at Stockholm School of Economics and research advisor to the Deep South Incident Database at Deep South Watch in Pattani, Thailand.


Some Responses:

Nick Nostitz
13 AUGUST 2016 AT 2:50 PM

This article shows a shocking amount of common sense under all that white noise we have been reading and hearing at other places since yesterday.

If i may add – attempts by some to blame Red Shirt militant groups for the recent spat of bombings make no sense at all either. Alone the target – damaging tourism – would disqualify Red Shirts as culprits. Many Red Shirts, be it common Red Shirts, and up to leadership level, and high ranked members of PT Party own or are employed in tourism related businesses.

Notions of a False Flag operation by the military itself makes no sense either – the military has nothing to gain from these bombs, and only to lose. It already has all the power it needs and does not need to do such a false flag operation as a pretense to extend its legal powers. Also internal military conflicts would not target tourism – it hurts all Thais, not just the government or the dominant military faction.

Furthermore – if an operation of this scale would have been done by either Red Shirts or the military, it could not have been kept secret even in the planning stages, as both sides have more than a few spies in each others camps. While both sides may have radicals, these are on both sides on the fringe and would have been stopped.

Foreign involvement in such a coordinated attack would need major local involvement – which would again mean that information would trickle through.

There are plenty reasons though why the government may need to downplay a Southern Insurgency involvement, not the least being lasting damage to the tourism industry through such an open admission that Southern Insurgency groups have the capability to operate outside their provinces.


Andrew MacGregor Marshall
13 AUGUST 2016 AT 6:45 PM

Not so fast. This is a thought provoking article but it is misleading to suggest that the latest attacks are basically nothing new or out of the ordinary. In fact, if southern insurgents were behind the attacks, this would mark a significant escalation and change of tactics and strategy.

The article also assumes that we know who was behind all past bombings and various related activity — and that it was all the southern insurgents. It assumes we know for sure that the Thai-language anti-referendum graffiti in the three southern provinces was the work of insurgents. But the question of who produced the graffiti has not been conclusively answered. I think there are interesting parallels with the banners in the same provinces denouncing Sirikit on her birthday in 2009, mentioned in leaked US cable 09BANGKOK2149. These banners were almost certainly not produced by insurgents.

Moreover, if the bombers wanted to send a message about the referendum, why did they wait until after the vote to launch their attacks? Planning for these attacks would have had to begin way before the result was known in the evening of August 7. So it is improbable that these attacks were a direct response to the result, and if they were intended as a more general gesture of rejection of the referendum, why did the bombers not strike during the run-up to the vote?

It is also rather misleading to claim it’s a myth that insurgents don’t target tourists. We all know that there are frequent incidents in the border sex and smuggling towns Sungai Kolok, Sadao and Betong, but as many analysts have pointed out, much of this violence is likely to be criminal rather than political/religious, arising from turf wars among rival mafia groups and military gangs. There is no evidence that Malaysian sex tourists have been specifically targeted, and in any case they are a very niche group among the tourists who visit Thailand.

The Samui bombing is an unsolved case and some southern insurgent involvement is likely. But as far as I am aware there is no proof that this was intended as an attack on the tourist industry. It’s widely known that some southern insurgents are available for hire to criminal and mafia groups. There have been numerous instances of business disputes in the Deep South being solved with violence aided by insurgents. There is no compelling evidence that the attacks on the Lee Garden Hotel and the Koh Samui mall are different.

Contrary to the impression created by Anders Egvall, a coordinated series of attacks on multiple targets outside the Deep South, specifically intended to cause significant damage to the national economy and tourist industry, would be an extremely significant, even game-changing, new development. That doesn’t mean this is not what has happened. But a “this is nothing new” argument is inaccurate and does not help us establish who was responsible for the attacks.

There is one clear precedent for the Mothers’ Day attacks — the 2006/7 New Year bombings in Bangkok. It was never conclusively established who was behind these bombings, and indeed it may have been a coalition of various interests.

The bombing of the Erawan Shrine on August 17 last year also has some parallels, and it would be worth re-examining whether this really was done by angry Uighurs acting alone without help from other groups inside Thailand.