Female genital cutting in Thailand's south
FGM is a rising cultural practice in southern Thailand and, with little regulation, concerns are at an all-time high.
Gabrielle Paluch
02 Apr 2015

Yala, Thailand - "Just a little," Dr Patimoh Umasa says, pinching the tip of her finger showing how she cuts the clitorises of small girls.

Dr Umasa runs a small clinic on Yala's main drag, just down the street from a bombed-out building, near the edge of the Muslim quarter.

As one of the few female doctors in the city, she is the one everyone goes to for sunat - the practice of female circumcision, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies as female genital mutilation (FGM).

"Just an incision to leak some blood, no excision of flesh," Dr Umasa says, using her grey cat, asleep at the clinic reception, to demonstrate the way she holds the girls still before she cuts them.

"It takes three people, see? The mother holds the baby up here for comfort, and an assistant holds the legs open like this," she says, spreading the cat's legs apart and pinning them down to the counter.

She adds: "And then with my left hand I spread the labia, and with my right hand I pull back the clitoral hood, and slice."

Umasa uses a sterile size-11 surgical blade, and performs the procedure for free, because she says its a religious procedure.

"The babies cry," she says, "but not much. They don't have any lasting health complications."

Like others, Dr Umasa believes that the procedure, if done by a doctor, should not be considered mutilation.

"If it's done by a trained doctor, they are using the right technique, then never mind!"

In the past, traditional birth attendants performed sunat on the newborn baby girls a few days after birth.

Wamae Tahe is a 65-year-old retired midwife who says in the 23 years she worked in Yala, she performed sunat on almost all female babies whose births she attended.

"But now babies are born in the hospital, so I no longer do cutting, because mothers are afraid to have it done at home," she says.

"It's important to be careful and not hurt the baby's vagina! But I wasn't concerned that I was harming the baby. They cried a little, but it must be done."

She says on two occasions she performed the procedure on girls over the age of 18, which she said made her very nervous.

Off the radar

Dr Umasa says she performs anywhere between 10 and 20 procedures a month, and the figure is rising as women increasingly give birth in hospitals.

The practice of female genital cutting in southern Thailand is virtually undocumented, and the prevalence is unknown as there is no reliable data available. But Dr Umasa believes it is universally prevalent.

Dr Sudarat Teeraworn is a maternal health supervisor for the department of public health in Yala province, and she says the issue of female genital mutilation is completely off the Thai Health Ministry's radar.

Adding to this, Dr Teeraworn says, it's just simply not a topic of discussion: many women do not even know if they are "cut" since most of the procedures are performed during infancy.

"There are no laws or regulations surrounding the practice, and the Health Ministry doesn't say anything about it or study it because it's not harmful - it's a cultural phenomenon. If it's cultural and not harmful, then what can we do about it?"

Dr Teeraworn says there have been no prevalence studies done in Thailand, but believes the prevalence in border provinces is probably similar to the FGM's prevalence in Malaysia.

An unpublished study conducted in 2011 by the University of Malaya's department of preventive medicine in Malaysia found that 93 percent of Muslim women in Malaysia have undergone the procedure.

Though not comprehensive, the numbers for Kelantan state, which borders Thailand, are similar.

The cutting that occurs in Malaysia is similar to the process described by Dr Umasa in southern Thailand. It falls under type IV of the WHO's classification system - the least invasive type, typically done without removing flesh.

Undefined procedure

Malaysia's highest religious authority issued a fatwa, an Islamic legal edict, in 2009 making the cutting procedure required for all Muslim women, unless "harmful".

Many religious leaders in Malaysia, like their counterparts in Thailand, believe the procedure as practised there is so minimally invasive that it should not be called mutilation.

Saira Shameem, who works with the United Nations Population Fund, says the process is never harmless, and the WHO created the type IV category specifically to include the practices in countries like Malaysia.

Because there is such a variety of practices of increasing invasiveness, she says any sort of cutting on a woman's genitals, no matter how small, is harmful and should not be done.

Malaysia's fatwa does not define the procedure, and Shameem says health officials are trying to work that avenue to change the practice to a more symbolic one.

"In order to prevent the procedure from becoming more extensive, we are trying to persuade the Ministry of Health to replace it as currently practicsed with cleansing with an alcohol swab," she says, referring to a routine examination typically performed by obstetricians at birth.

The fatwa poses a dilemma for medical professionals caught between their unwillingness to violate WHO guidelines, and parents who feel pressure to have their daughters cut.

But Shameem says doctors can play a big part in the transition to eradicating the behaviour.

"We don't have as much influence and control over traditional practitioners as doctors, so if you're talking about effectively eradicating the procedure, working through the medical system with doctors would shift the practice more quickly," Shameem said.

The religious and social pressure to have a baby girl cut in Thailand works on practitioners as well. As retired midwife Tahe explained, "If parents come to me to ask me to do it, I can't say 'no'. Can I?"

Accessing 'red zones'

Julia Lalla-Maharajh is the CEO of Orchid Project, a London-based organisation that advocates against female genital mutilation.

She says the biggest problem they face is massive information gaps.

"There is very little data or evidence about the practice outside of African countries, and this is something we absolutely need to address," she says.

"We cannot show how urgent and important this issue is, so we would urge organisations around the world to really keep asking the questions: Is [female genital cutting] happening in your country, and what can be done about it?"

Dr Teeraworn says she and her health teams have no access to so-called red zones in Thailand's conflict-stricken south, areas where bombings and attacks occur regularly.

She is unable to directly supervise health stations there.

Thailand's deep south was part of the independent Malay Pattani sultanate some 200 years ago,and the practice of sunat dates back to that era.

Today, ethnic Malay Muslims who inhabit the region speak Bahasa Melayu and consider themselves to be culturally Malay, though they are Thai nationals.

Since 2004, over 6,000 people have died in sporadic bombings and attacks that are part of a violent insurgency, which has an apparent but unclear demand for increased autonomy.

Imam Abdullah Abu-Bakr of the Committee of Islamic Council of Yala says Muslims in the south are more observant than their co-religionists in Bangkok, because there are more foreign-educated imams and fewer distractions, such as the entertainment hub of Bangkok.

He himself was educated in Syria and Malaysia.

Thailand's fatwa committee has not issued a fatwa surrounding the practice of sunat, but Imam Abdullah says everybody knows the practice is required for boys, typically in a public ceremony around age seven, and though is not absolutely required of women, it is something all women should do.

He says the way it is currently practised is not harmful, and is key to a Muslim's cultural identity.

"You must peel a banana before you can eat it," Abu-Bakr says, "and for women, it will reduce their wildness, making them clean and strong."

Thailand's secessionist Muslim insurgency escalates

Joshua Kurlantzick
The National
Oct 20, 2012

On a hot spring day, the roads and dirt alleys of the predominantly Muslim province seem quiet, even abandoned. Groups of schoolchildren, the girls in headscarves and the boys in starched uniforms, walk together along the side of the road. Inside some of the small, makeshift houses, men watch football matches on satellite television.

The quietness would be temporary. On September 21, a group of men appeared on the streets and began spraying machine-gun fire into a shop. As a crowd gathered in the aftermath of the shooting, a car bomb hidden nearby was detonated, killing six people and wounding at least 50.

These types of brutal attacks have become routine in this province. On a daily basis, groups of heavily armed men attack local officials, police, soldiers, teachers and any Muslim they believe is not adhering strictly enough to Islamic values. The insurgents explode homemade bombs, climb onto school buses and strafe children with gunfire. Those believed to sympathise with the national government are sometimes decapitated, their headless bodies left in public places, along with warnings to obey a strict form of Islam.

This is Pattani in southern Thailand, just a few hundred kilometres from Phuket and the idyllic international beach resorts of Thailand's west coast. In the country's deep south, where three Muslim-majority provinces abut Malaysia, a brutal insurgency between local Muslim militants who want a separate state and the Buddhist-dominated Thai army and paramilitary forces has raged for over a decade now. (Thailand is roughly 95 per cent Buddhist, but Buddhists are a minority in the three southern provinces.)

Since the war began in earnest in 2001, more than 5,000 people have been killed, and about 11,000 severely wounded, according to statistics kept by Deep South Watch, a monitoring organisation in southern Thailand. In recent months, the region has averaged four violent incidents a day. The shootings, bombings and open gunfights in the streets have devastated the local economy and left towns in ruins. And now, according to both Thai officials and Malay diplomats, the violence appears to be escalating.

In April, insurgents launched three sophisticated car bomb attacks, killing 14 people. On one day this summer, insurgents launched 102 simultaneous attacks across the south, including five bombings and innumerable shootings. The death toll rises each year - 310 people in 2009, 521 in 2010, and 535 in 2011, according to monitoring organisations. The chief of staff of Thailand's army recently acknowledged that the violence was unlikely to end anytime soon. Both sides have begun using extreme tactics. The Thai forces have armed local Buddhists, and in doing so created state-sanctioned vigilante groups. Both sides are accused by human rights groups of using children as soldiers. Government security forces frequently abduct local suspects and torture or kill them, according to reports by Human Rights Watch.

The violence has made southern Thailand the deadliest war zone in East Asia. And yet the conflict in the south has, for years, been almost invisible on the global stage, even though Thailand is a country woven into the world economy by trade and tourism. It is rarely covered in the media in the West or the Muslim world. It is all but ignored in policy circles in Washington, most Asian capitals, and even among many policymakers in Bangkok. And though some Muslims from southern Thailand have attempted to get international bodies to help address their grievances, including the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), they have been largely ignored.

Though representatives of the OIC have met with some representatives of the southern insurgents, by and large, say several diplomats who were involved with the OIC, southern Thailand is not an important issue for the organisation.

"They see some place like southern Thailand as tangential, it's not in the Arab world," says one.

The three southern provinces along the Malay border have long had differences with Bangkok. They were, until the early 20th century, part of a sultanate. Around then, the Bangkok monarchy - a Buddhist institution - gained control of the region, triggering local anger against what the Malay-speaking minority viewed as a foreign grip. In the 1960s and 1970s, an earlier separatist insurgency emerged in southern Thailand, but the death toll was relatively low, and most of the insurgents put aside their weapons in the 1980s, following an amnesty from the national government.

To this day, no one really knows why the insurgency re-emerged in the early 2000s, and why the new conflicts were so much more violent. Many southerners date the first major attack to 2001, when at the end of the year an unknown entity organised five well-coordinated attacks on police stations in the south, killing five officers. The attacks were shocking, but not completely unexpected. Even during the quiet periods of the 1980s and 1990s, separatist tensions still simmered. For the south's youth, limited economic opportunity, perceived discrimination from Bangkok paired with the capital's exploitation of the region's abundant natural resources and an increased prevalence of drugs all led to a sense of alienation and fuelled the emergence of a radicalised youth population. According to Duncan McCargo, a scholar of southern Thailand at the University of Leeds in the UK, some became involved in growing networks of organised drug gangs, which supported an initial spate of attacks on local officials and created a climate of lawlessness. In addition, in the 1990s, communities in southern Thailand became closely linked to other parts of the Muslim world. With public schools in the south teaching primarily in Thai, many southerners began sending their children to private Islamic pondok schools, some of which were funded by charities from Arabian Gulf nations. Some schoolteachers argued for a renewal of the battle against the Thai state, and some of these institutions began to provide fertile recruiting grounds for militant networks, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The Thai government fuelled southerners' rage through repressive policies in the early and mid-2000s. After the first stirrings of the insurgency, Thaksin Shinawatra's government, abolished a popular local southern board designed to hear grievances. Worse, rather than making efforts to address some of the grievances aired in the early 2000s by nonviolent southern activists, Thaksin took the opposite approach by centralising power in Bangkok. He rotated larger battalions of troops to the south, including many from other areas of Thailand where the soldiers had never interacted with Muslims. Thaksin had, through speeches, essentially given the security forces free rein in the deep south.

The result of centralisation of power and demonisation of southerners led to disasters such as the October 2004 Tak Bai incident in Narathiwat. When six men were arrested for allegedly supplying weapons to the insurgency, protesters demanding their release amassed outside the station at which they were being held. Dozens of protesters were arrested, and during their transport to a nearby military base in which prisoners were stacked in a lorry five to six deep, 78 people were either crushed or suffocated to death. No senior army or police officer has ever been punished for the incident, but the level of violence in the south increased soon after.

Unlike the 1960s and early 1970s, when the earlier insurgency was led by several groups with well-known leaders, this time the violence has been highly decentralised. A study by Human Rights Watch showed that the insurgents want to drive Thai Buddhists out of the south, as well as possibly institute more use of local languages, stricter forms of Islam, and ultimately obtaining autonomy or a separate state. But no one leader has emerged at the head of the insurgency, and experts such as Don Pathan of The Nation newspaper in Bangkok say that the insurgent cells are diffuse. Some of the insurgents issue warnings and demands to locals in the south and the Thai government, often through leaflets left on cars or in public places, but no one knows whether these demands represent all of the insurgents. The best analysis of the structure of the insurgency, put together by several researchers travelling through the south, found that the insurgents seem to be organised in small cells of six or seven fighters, run by a higher "Military Council" whose leaders are known as BRN-Coordinate, an acronym representing a series of words in Malay. Benjamin Zawicki, a longtime Amnesty International researcher, says: "The secrecy of BRN-Coordinate is such, however, that often the real name of superiors … or even fellow unit members, is not known to other members."

As a result of the diffuse networks of command, breaking up insurgent cells or even trying to negotiate with the militants has proven difficult for the authorities. In recent weeks, the Thai government has convinced almost 100 alleged militants to surrender, and have held talks with some veteran militant leaders. Yet even senior Thai government ministers privately admit that, though there are some 60,000 troops in the south and 66 government agencies involved in addressing the violence, they have no real idea whether the men who surrendered had actually been linked to any violence, or whether the older leaders really had any direct ties to heads of insurgent cells operating today. Five years ago, the Thai military claimed they believed there were as many as 40,000 people in the south linked to the insurgency; more recently, the military has claimed that there are only a few hundred people involved, a disparity that suggests the Thai government has no real clue about the number of fighters.

For a brief period in the early 2000s, the conflict in southern Thailand did make it onto the world's radar. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, some western terrorism experts attempted to link the southern insurgents to Al Qaeda. A group of terrorism specialists who had never focused on southern Thailand before, including Rohan Gunaratna of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, seemed to want to lump all Muslim insurgent groups together, and began issuing reports, full of raw data but with few hard examples, of southern Thailand and the global jihadist movement.

In perhaps the most notable example of this trend, well-known American terrorism researcher Zachary Abuza became interested in southern Thailand and published a series of articles and books, mostly based on Thai security forces' views, which tried to link the south to a global jihad. Abuza argued that there was reason to be suspicious that the southern insurgency was linked to Al Qaeda funding networks, senior Al Qaeda operational leaders, and Al Qaeda local leaders in South East Asia. His reports were taken seriously, at least for a time, by government officials in the United States, where he taught at the National Defense University. This theory was encouraged by hawks in the Thai government, who saw that linking the south to international networks would gain Thailand greater assistance from the US.

Indeed, Hambali, who was said to be the South East Asia head of the organisation, travelled through Thailand and may have ventured to the south. One of the most prominent clerics in the south, a man named Ismail Lufti, who operates a prosperous, gleaming private school that stands out from the run-down schools on most southern streets, was seen in 2002 meeting with two men later linked to bombings in Bali. Meanwhile, a comprehensive study by the ICG, taken two years ago, showed that some Islamic private schools in the south, including several funded with foreign aid, helped "recruits [be] drawn into the [southern] movement".

But several teachers noted that none of the recruiters or students saw the southern conflict as part of some broader Muslim war, or were interested in establishing an Islamic caliphate in South East Asia, another theory proposed by counterterrorism specialists in the West. More often, they just raged at the Thai state's denigration of their legal and linguistic rights, or at the presence of thousands of army troops all over the south. Many of the captured militants showed little devotion to religion at all.

Indeed, as McCargo says, "The standard tactics of global jihadis, such as targeting foreigners … and selecting high-profile targets outside of the immediate conflict zone, have not been used in southern Thailand." The militants have launched no major attacks outside the south, even though high-end resorts patronised by wealthy westerners are close by. By contrast, Jemaah Islamiyah, which is clearly an Al Qaeda-linked terror group that has operated in Indonesia for more than a decade, has attacked western interests such as the Bali nightclub strip and the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta.

Senior members of Thailand's national security council have admitted as much, with National Intelligence Agency director Suwaphan Tanyuwattana recently declaring that he did not think southern insurgents received backing from Islamist militants. Or, as several southern teachers and activists told me, among young southerners, there is no cult following for prominent Middle Eastern clerics or terrorist leaders, since they look only to Malay leaders (including some Malaysian politicians) for cues.

When no major links to Al Qaeda emerged in the south, much of the world seemed to lose attention. Meanwhile, the few experts on Thailand that exist in the West have been primarily focused on the ongoing political conflict in Bangkok and the centre of the country, which since 2006 has resulted in a coup, numerous street protests, and the violent demonstrations and army actions that resulted in at least 80 deaths in Bangkok. The international media have no regular correspondents based in southern Thailand, a sharp contrast from Afghanistan or other major conflict zones, and the southern Muslims - unlike former fighters in East Timor or in Palestinian Territories today - have no global champion or diaspora network to speak for their cause and to bring their grievances to a broader audience. Most western news organisations, lacking any global story in the south or a compelling southern Thai leader, run only an occasional story about the violence. "Some people in Malaysia pay attention to these news stories, but anywhere else in the region, no one does," says one Malaysian diplomat. The Thai insurgents do not seem interested in changing this dynamic with reporters: they rarely issue public statements via the internet or television, or provide spokespeople who can meet with or at least telephone reporters.

After Thaksin was removed as prime minister in a coup in 2006, Thailand's elites fought for several years over control of Bangkok. Finally, in 2011, a party led by Thaksin's sister Yingluck, and actually commanding a majority of Thai voters, won parliamentary elections, giving it a strong mandate, though it was mistrusted by many army officers. Since taking office, the Yingluck government has adopted some new approaches to the south. Some top Thai politicians, including the deputy prime minister, have finally broached the idea of giving the southern provinces their own elected governors and significant autonomy, which was previously a red line no major Thai politician would cross.

This dramatic shift from previous Thai policy could, if correctly implemented, cut down the militants' appeal and reduce grievances in the south, and also possibly make Bangkok politicians who had just written off the violence begin to once again try to work for solutions. "The military-directed policy toward the south isn't working," wrote the Bangkok Post after the autonomy proposal was released. "It is past time to debate a new approach to the country's greatest security problem."

The government has not only accepted the surrender and provided amnesty to about 100 former fighters, it has also conducted more regular talks with men it believes are representatives of insurgent cells to get a better sense of their core demands. In sharp contrast to the bravado of previous Thai military leaders, the current army chief has won credit among southerners for at least admitting that the situation is severe, has many components, and will not be resolved easily anytime soon. Although the armed forces continue to detain suspects with little due process, the number of disappearances and reports of torture have diminished since the mid-2000s, and the army has rotated into the south a wider range of officers with more advanced counterinsurgency training, better understanding of local conditions, and at least some familiarity with Thai Muslims. In addition, the Thai government has tried to work more closely with neighbouring Malaysia, across the border, to prevent militants from easily slipping back and forth, according to several Malaysian diplomats.

And yet, even as the current Thai government seems to be moving closer to policy changes that could address southern grievances, the violence has, in recent months, reached its highest levels in recent years, while the insurgents also seem to have become better-coordinated and more confident.

Southern Thailand politicians and local officials offer differing explanations for the spike in violence. Among the most optimistic, usually officials who support the national government, the spike is an attempt by insurgent cells to press their advantage before coming to the peace table, a time-honoured strategy used by insurgents around the world. These officials argue that, with a populist government in Bangkok, supported by a large majority of rural Thais, the Yingluck govenrment is better-placed than any previous Thai government to understand the economic and political grievances of poor southerners.

Given that few people with top-level experience in the insurgency have actually surrendered or even agreed to talk, this explanation for the surging violence seems unlikely. Though the populist party running Thailand today is genuinely popular among the rural poor, it is not so beloved in the south - in the last parliamentary election, when Yingluck's party got an absolute majority of seats, it took only one seat in the entire southern region.

Instead, many teachers, local officials and analysts suggest a more menacing and depressing conclusion. After a decade of violence and with the Thai economy slowing down due to falling exports, young men in the south have become wedded to the insurgency as a way of life. Joining insurgent cells allows them access to money - insurgents often shake down local merchants and are allegedly involved in drug trafficking and other crimes - social status, and a way of venting their enormous resentments against Thai Buddhists, the state and their lack of relevance in Thai society as a whole. The insurgents also have attacked southerners who attempt to avoid violence and make money through traditional jobs such as rubber tapping. As each generation of young men in the south has been drawn into the insurgency, and as some teachers, local clerics, and other powerful southerners treat the insurgents with great respect, generation after generation of southerners see the battle as the best option not just for their politics, but for their own social well-being. And that is a hard cycle to break.

Joshua Kurlantzick is Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations

Thailand Fighting Against Over 3,000 Muslim Militants: Army

Deadly Bomb Attacks Cast Light On Forgotten Conflict
Arab Times

BANGKOK, April 2, (Agencies): Thailand is fighting against more than 3,000 Muslim militants waging a shadowy insurgency in the deep south that has claimed thousands of lives, army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha said Monday.

Suspected militants set off a series of car bombs on Saturday that killed 14 people and wounded hundreds in the deadliest attacks to hit the region in recent years.

“There are about 300 of leader rank, 3,000 operators and about 10,000 supporters,” the general said, adding that their numbers had fallen due to arrests.

Prayut called for people to remain calm following the weekend attacks in which a tourist hotel was targeted, raising concerns as Thailand prepares for the mid-April new year Songkran holiday.

“Do not panic because that is what this group wants,” he said.

Prayut was speaking in Bangkok before accompanying Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on a visit to the largest southern city of Hat Yai, where a car bomb at a hotel triggered a fire that killed three people and injured more than 400.

The attack came about an hour after car bombs killed 11 people and wounded more than 100 in the town of Yala further south.
The hotel attack was an apparent escalation in the tactics of militants who have waged a deadly insurgency in the far south since 2004 that has claimed both Buddhist and Muslim lives.
Hat Yai, a popular destination for tourists from Malaysia and Singapore, has largely been spared the violence which plagues the three neighbouring far southern provinces on an almost daily basis but rarely on the scale of Saturday’s attacks.
The insurgents are not thought to be part of a global jihad movement but are instead rebelling against a long history of perceived discrimination against ethnic-Malay Muslims by successive Thai governments.
Struggling to quell the unrest, authorities have imposed emergency rule in the region, which rights campaigners say effectively gives the army legal immunity.
The region was an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until it was annexed in 1902 by mainly Buddhist Thailand.
One after another, the bombs went off, destroying shops and vehicles, engulfing buildings in flame and smoke and sending panicked shoppers and tourists fleeing.
By Monday, two days after the most coordinated bomb attacks in southern Thailand in years, the damage was clear: 13 people were killed, more than 300 wounded and the Thai government’s policy to contain an eight-year rebellion by shadowy ethnic Malay Muslim rebels was again in tatters.
The bombs were hidden in pickup trucks in two cities 140 kms (87 miles) apart, exploding within an hour of each other. Two went off in Yala, one of three Muslim-majority southern provinces at the heart of the insurgency that has claimed 5,000 lives since 2004.

Those explosions killed 10 people in a busy shopping street.
A third went off in the basement car park of the five-star Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel and shopping centre in Hat Yai, a bustling commercial centre that rarely sees such violence, just a few hour’s drive from some of Thailand’s best-known beach resorts. Rescue workers recovered three bodies from the hotel.

“What’s unprecedented was the scale of the operation ... and the ruthlessness in targeting large numbers of civilians,” said Anthony Davis, an analyst at IHS-Jane’s, a global security consulting firm.
The bombings add to a growing list of problems for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a political novice who since taking office last August has faced problems on multiple fronts, from a flood crisis and entrenched political divisions to rising food prices and a struggling economy.
Yingluck pledged before her election to consider turning the three southern provinces into a special administrative zone with one elected governor, a sensitive subject in Buddhist Thailand where the government has long resisted the idea of handing more political power to its minority Muslims.
But Saturday’s attacks in a city popular with Malaysian tourists might give her reason to reconsider that idea.
“Violence in the three southernmost provinces has become routine,” says Davis, “but an attack at the heart of Hat Yai’s tourist district on a Saturday afternoon was obviously intended to seize national and international attention and make a very brutal point: this is not ‘business as usual’.”

State official beheaded in Thai Muslim south

September 9, 2008

YALA, Thailand: Separatist militants shot dead and beheaded a Buddhist state official in Thailand's Muslim south on Tuesday, police said, the latest death in 57 months of insurgency in which more than 3,100 people have died.

Police found 29 spent M-16 bullets around the pickup truck of the victim, identified as 26-year-old Attapong Gonlom, after at least two gunmen opened fire on him at a school in Pattani, one of four southern provinces hit by the violence.

"After the attack, the gunmen dragged his body out of the truck and chopped his head off, to the horror of students and teachers," a police incident report said.

The incident pushed the number of people decapitated in the Malay-speaking region to 34, a Reuters calculation based on police data and newspaper reports showed.

In the nearby province of Yala, rebels raided a seven-man army outpost late on Monday, killing one ranger and wounding another, police said.

The militants walked away with seven automatic rifles, a pistol, four flak jackets and 1,000 bullets, police said.

An army spokesman could not say what happened to the other five rangers.

"The attack happened when the rangers were about to have dinner and it is not clear if the rest were able to escape," Colonel Acra Tiproch told Reuters by telephone.

Since the latest violence erupted in 2004, the rebels have never revealed themselves publicly or claimed responsibility for the near daily gun and bomb attacks in the rubber-producing region bordering Malaysia.

(Reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Alan Raybould)




by B.Raman

The internal security situation in southern Thailand, which has seen a recrudescence of long dormant Muslim anger against the Government since the beginning of this year, has again taken a turn for the worse with the death of six Muslims allegedly due to firing by the security forces outside a police station in the Narathiwat province on October 25,2004, and the subsequent death, allegedly due to suffocation and renal failure, of another 78 Muslims who were among those arrested during a large demonstration by about 3,000 Muslims outside the police station which led to the use of tear-smoke and firing by the security forces to disperse them.

2. The firing by the security forces and the consequent death of six Muslims, though tragic, are understandable taking into account the kind of provocative demonstration which the security forces faced. What is not understandable and needs to be strongly condemned, as it has been by many leading personalities and large sections of the media in Thailand itself, is the shocking treatment of the detenus after they had been arrested.

3. While only the enquiry ordered by the Government could establish the facts of the case, available evidence already suggests that the security forces cannot escape a major share of the blame for failing to protect those in their custody and for transporting them under apparently inhuman conditions packed like sardines in trucks which were too small for transporting such large numbers. The fact that while being transported, the detenus, many of them injured, had their hands allegedly tied behind their back and were made to lie one upon the other inside the trucks made the humanitarian disaster inevitable.

4. What has further aggravated the anger of not only the local Muslims, but also of many living in other countries of South-East Asia was the seeming insensitivity of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra not only to the steadily deteriorating situation in Southern Thailand since January, but also to the humanitarian tragedy of October 25 and thereafter.

5. Right or wrong, there is a perception not only among the Muslims of Thailand and the region, but also among many non-Muslim intellectuals and human rights activists that his background as a policeman before he entered the world of business and then of politics has been coming in the way of a greater finesse in dealing with the situation and a willingness to hold the security forces in general and the police in particular accountable for their actions. Consequently, over-reaction against the Muslim anger resulting in excesses and human rights violations and a growing perception among the Muslims that the administration in general and the security forces in particular are anti-Muslim are adding to the complexities of an already complex situation.

6. The anger of the minorities in any country ---whether religious or sectarian or ethnic or ideological-- passes through the following stages--- communal, that is, against a community perceived as adversaries; anti-police/security forces due to their over-reaction and due to perceptions, right or wrong, that they are biased against the minorities; ant-Government due to perceptions that it is insensitive and over-protective of the security forces; and finally anti-national due to perceptions that the minorities cannot get justice as part of the existing nation.

7. A similar evolution has been taking place in Southern Thailand. The failure of the Government to lucidly analyse the situation and follow an appropriate strategy to tackle it has played into the hands of jihadi terrorist organisations/elements of external inspiration/instigation and Thailand faces the danger of a situation similar to that prevalent in the Southern Philippines. The fact that Thailand had faced a similar Muslim insurgent movement in its Southern provinces in the past and dealt with it successfully should not lead to a feeling of complacency that it could ultimately deal successfully with the present situation too without its threatening national integrity, economic stability and national security.

8. Pernicious ideas of pan-Islamic kind emanating from organisations such as Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and his International Islamic Front (IIF) were not there in the 1980s despite the then raging jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Today, such pernicious ideas have been creeping across the South and the South-East Asian region from their spawning grounds in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They make the tasks of the security forces much more difficult than they were in the past.

9. There are five characteristic features of the situation in Southern Thailand as it has evolved since January,2004:


Insurgency still rages in southern Thailand

By Paris Lord, Agence France-Presse

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

BANGKOK: Two years after suspected Muslim militants raided an army base in southern Thailand and set off a bloody insurgency, the region is driven by distrust and peace remains a distant prospect, analysts say.

A daily tide of violence in the Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia has left more than 1,000 people dead since the January 4, 2004, raid, and critics say government efforts to rein in the violence have been woeful.

Bangkok has tried dumping 120 million paper birds from aircraft in a symbolic peace drop and pledging cable television for village teahouses as part of efforts to bring peace.

But despite repeated government assurances that the unrest is under control or declining, the frequent killings—two men were found shot and beheaded on Monday—suggest otherwise.

It appeared an end to the violence was a long way off, said Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch consultant on Thailand.

“Until now, the militants haven’t identified themselves or made clear their objectives and that in itself indicates they don’t have any intention to start negotiations with the government,” he told AFP.

“We’re talking about a double failure.

“We know the government can’t solve the militants [problem], the second is the government can’t win the trust of the locals,” said Sunai, blaming officials for abuses which started with the investigation into the original January 4 raid.

Former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, whom Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra tapped in February to run the government-appointed National Reconciliation Commission, has said Bangkok must admit and apologize for past abuses.

When Anand was appointed to the commission and charged with devising a peace plan, the death toll stood at around 610. It is expected to publish its recommendations in March.

The restive provinces once formed an autonomous Muslim sultanate until they was annexed by Thailand a century ago. Separatist violence has periodically flared since then, but the groups who led the last campaign in the 1970s largely disintegrated in the 1980s and many members are in exile.

Abdul, a villager in Narathiwat province who asked his full name not be used because of fears for his safety, said government officials had failed to build unity and peace over the past two years.

He said the main reason was the officials, who are all Buddhists, lacked understanding of the roots of the problems and Thai Muslims’ ways of life.

Buddhists form the majority in this country of about 63 million people. Muslims make up fewer than five percent and most of whom live in southern Thailand. Many Muslims are ethnic Malays who speak Yawi or Malayu dialects, not Thai.

A controversial emergency decree the government introduced in July 2005 and renewed for an extra three months in October allows detention without trial and gives officials immunity from prosecution.

“While the decree gives more power to state officials to arrest and detain suspects, it has failed to regain the trust of local people toward the government and somehow made it worse,” Abdul said.

The head of Pattani’s local administration, Ahmad Somboon Bualuang, said he could not see any improvement in the situation.

Instead, economic conditions had deteriorated, with incomes cut to around one third of what they were before 2004, because people were afraid of leaving their homes and tourism had crashed.

“I haven’t seen any improvement over the past two years, even though the government has tried to present positive images about what’s going on,” he said.

“In fact, local people feel more pressure as the authorities cannot explain clearly who is actually behind the violence, and they’ve arrested a number of people who haven’t done anything wrong,” Ahmad added.

Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya said on Sunday the government would work harder to end the violence.

“Officials do not really understand the problem clearly and they haven’t implemented follow-up measures,” Chidchai conceded. “Lots of things have to be done.”


Thailand admits southern Muslim violence raging unabated

The Associated Press

June 21, 2007

Southern Thailand's Islamic insurgency has not abated despite the new government's peace efforts, the defense minister acknowledged Thursday, though he claimed the extremists were on their "last legs."

The government, which took over after a military coup late last year, says it is seeking talks with the rebels and has adopted a "hearts and minds" approach to ending the insurgency, reversing former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's hard-line military bid to crush the rebellion.

However, the rebels have only intensified their violence in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, the only Muslim-dominated areas in the Buddhist-majority country.

The violence has killed more than 2,300 people since early 2004 in the south, where many Muslims have long complained of discrimination.

"The violence in the southern border provinces seems, at the moment, not getting better due to the nature of the culprits themselves," Thai Defense Minister Gen. Boonrod Somtad said during a visit to Malaysia's biggest city, Kuala Lumpur.

But the "instigators ... seem to be on the last legs, on the point of trying to elevate the problem, trying to make the problem more international," Boonrod said through an interpreter. He did not elaborate.

The insurgency-hit area lies near Thailand's border with Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Boonrod also said that, even though the military-established Thai government is a temporary one, it was trying to enact new measures to solve the problem by using reconciliation policies.

"Now our policies are coming into effect, and the situation in the south should be improving in the foreseeable future," he said.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Boonrod, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed confidence that Thai authorities will be able to find a peaceful solution, and that the unrest would not spill into the bordering parts of northern Malaysia.

"We have taken the stance that this is a domestic problem of Thailand, and therefore we respect the sovereignty of Thailand and we will not interfere unless we are invited to cooperate and to help out in any way," Najib said.


Thailand's south derides ceasefire claim as hoax

July 18, 2008

YALA, Thailand (AFP) — Televised claims of a ceasefire by separatist militants were derided Friday as a hoax in Thailand's Muslim-majority south, after a veteran insurgent leader disavowed the move.

A group called Ruam Pak Tai Khong Prathet Thai (Thailand's United Southern Underground group) made a videotaped announcement Thursday, broadcast on an army-run television station, declaring an end to the violence.

The declaration was greeted with widespread doubts among the Thai military, other insurgent leaders, and residents of the southern region along the Malaysian border who have suffered through four years of near-daily attacks.

Thailand's army commander General Anupong Paojinda said the military was surprised by the announcement, and an official statement later distanced the army further from the ex-army chief who had apparently negotiated the move.

General Chetta Thanacharo, also the former defence minister, claimed he had orchestrated a ceasefire.

"The royal Thai army has nothing to do with the announcement by the militant group on Thai television. It was carried out by a private person, General Chetta, who hopes for peace in the southern provinces," the statement said.

"The Thai army continue to adhere to a policy of non-violence and strict law enforcement to solve the problems in the south and to create justice along with development and security for local residents," it said.

Hours after Thursday's televised statement, leaflets written in Thai and Arabic began circulating the restive town of Yala, urging militants to continue their armed struggle and to ignore the ceasefire announcement.

Residents said they saw no reason to believe the declaration.

"I don't give any weight to yesterday's announcement. I closely monitor developments and I don't think it was genuine," said Ahmad Jaewae, 45, an Internet shop owner in Yala town.

"The real leader would speak from his heart, not from a script," he told AFP.

Torlab Sama-ali, 60, a rubber tapper in Yala, was also skeptical but said he hoped for official negotiations between the government and militants to stop the violence.

"If it's true it would be very welcome, as we are all suffering from the unrest -- and as Muslims we do not agree with violence," he said.

Paison, 28, who gave only one name, said the professed leaders were former militants who are no longer active.

"I am not convinced that a ceasefire would be agreed this easily without any concessions after all the many Muslims arrested over the years," he said.

The conflict has claimed 3,300 lives in the past four years and authorities have struggled to identify the militants, who rarely claim responsibility for attacks.

One veteran militant leader, Kasturi Mahkota, disavowed the statement, saying his group knew nothing about the militants who appeared on television.

"Nothing has changed and the dialogue with the Thai authorities is still in the pipeline," Kasturi, foreign affairs chief for the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), told The Nation newspaper.

PULO emerged in 1968 and over the next two decades became the biggest insurgent group fighting in the mainly Muslim region along the southern border with Malaysia.

The group largely fell apart in the 1990s with most of their leaders living in exile. Past statements by PULO and Kasturi have had little effect on the fighting on the ground.

Analysts from local human rights organisation Working Group on Justice for Peace said the announcement could do more harm than good.

"The announcement was just a scene in a play. It not only contributes to the situation of unrest but will worsen the situation," the group said in a statement.

In their video, the militants said the ceasefire had taken effect from July 14. But attacks have continued to rattle the region since then, including bombings at two of the main police stations in the border provinces.

The region was an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until Thailand annexed it in 1902, provoking decades of tension.