Thailand is offering a $25,000 reward for information on those behind a spate of violence this week in its southern provinces.
Hundreds of soldiers have been deployed across southern Thailand after recent attacks claimed the lives of six people. The government is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture of those behind the attacks. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says the violence was the work of Islamic separatists.
Retired general Kitti Rattanachaya, a former commander of the southern provinces, is a senior advisor to the government. He links the attacks to the local separatist group, Mujahiden Pattani. General Kitti says Thai Muslim separatists may have called on support from the Malaysian Kampulan Mujahedin. The Malaysian group has links to the regional terror organization, Jemaah Islamiyah, which has ties to the al-Qaida terror network.
The Thai army is enforcing martial law in 22 districts of the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala. The residents in the south are primarily Muslim, although Thailand is primarily a Buddhist country.
But former Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan says the government is alienating many Thai Muslims, because authorities appear insensitive to local issues.
"Suppression, the heavy-handedness and not going by the due process of the law, there is a lot of abuses of power down there and I think they [the government] are missing the point," he said. "A lot of these policies are contradictory."
Mr. Thaksin has given the army and security officials a week to find out who is behind Sunday's raid on a military armory, arson attacks on more than 20 schools and a spate of bombings and shootings. The attacks are the worst violence in the region in recent years.
A separatist struggle in the south in the 1970s and 1980s ended after rebels reconciled with the central government. Most gave up their weapons, but others took to criminal activities including extortion, smuggling and theft.
A senior academic from Thailand's Prince of Songkhla University, Peerayot Rahimulla, says much of the blame for the violence lies with corrupt officials, not Muslim separatists.
"Mujahedin in southern Thailand is a group of ordinary criminals," said Mr. Rahimulla. "They do not have any political ideology at all, this group. They are organized from the ordinary crime in the area."
Regional terrorist expert, Carl Thayer, from the Australian Defense College, worries the violence, if not being the work of terrorists now, may attract terrorist groups.
"All of a sudden an area which has been quiescent for a while to experience this kind of renewed violence has to be worrying and carries with it the potential of attracting individuals who are looking for a new front to carry out operations," said Mr. Thayer.
Mr. Thayer says for the moment it appears gun smuggling is the major problem. Thailand's south, he believes, still lies outside the mainstream of international terrorism.