News / Asia

    Southern Thailand Violence Raises Fears of Insurgent Escalation

    FILE - Military personnel stand next to a damaged military vehicle where soldiers were attacked by suspected Muslim militants at Muang district in the southern province of Yala, Thailand, Sept. 4, 2015.
    FILE - Military personnel stand next to a damaged military vehicle where soldiers were attacked by suspected Muslim militants at Muang district in the southern province of Yala, Thailand, Sept. 4, 2015.
    Ron Corben

    Attacks across Thailand’s southern border provinces have raised fears of an escalation in insurgent violence, even as the Thai government has stepped up security operations and reports progress in its efforts to hold peace talks.  Human-rights advocates are calling for an investigation into claims of torture against detainees, including a death in custody.

    Outbreak of violence

    The outbreak of violence in Thailand’s southern provinces of Yala and Pattani on Friday included the roadside bombing of a military patrol providing security for local school teachers, drive-by shootings and arson attacks.

    The insurgency in the largely Muslim-populated region, in its 12th year, has claimed over 6,200 lives, defying official efforts to end the bloodshed.

    Panitan Wattanayagorn, a security adviser to the Thai defense minister, says the latest insurgent attacks are in response to security sweeps, including a raid Wednesday in Pattani Province that led to the seizure of a large quantity of bomb-making materials.

    “In the past few weeks, security units have been able to conduct sweeping operations pushing some of the key [insurgent] members to leave the cities, and some of them have been arrested. Intelligence [gathering] by security units are more successful," he said. "This is also indicating that the cooperation between different security units and the people in the area is much stronger.”

    Decline in violent incidents

    Panitan says there has been a reduction in violent incidents, and that a further decline in violence may lead to an easing of military control over the local administration. The regions remain under martial law.

    “If the reduction continues further this year we may see an ending to certain types of violence, and maybe the areas could be returned to normalcy — controlled, operated or managed by the local people. This is the hope for the year. [But it] has to be carefully managed until we are quite certain that things are stable,” he said.

    Rights groups charge the Thai government is failing to adequately address the issues of human rights abuses and ill-treatment of detainees.

    A report this week by the Cross Cultural Foundation, a local rights group, charged that more than 50 detainees have been victims of abuse - including one who died in December.

    Concerns about human rights

    Pornpen Khongkachontiel, the foundation’s director, says rights groups face greater restricted access to investigate the charges.

    “In the past, some mechanisms that can reduce the risk of detainees being tortured, for the monitoring by the National Human Rights Commission, the civil society and the families play a big role in monitoring the detention – including the military. But in the past year all these mechanisms, oversight mechanism, don’t work,” she said.

    Thai authorities have dismissed the claims, saying the rights situation in the southern border provinces has improved.

    But the foundation is calling for a full investigation into the allegations, saying that while just a few officials stand accused of ill treatment, the charges are creating fear and mistrust across the local communities.

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