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    Volume 9 Issue 25| June 18, 2010|

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It's not Working

Thai government is failing to connect with people in the strife-torn region; that's why the insurgency shows no sign of ending

Thai security officials in the deep South recently held an urgent meeting with public school teachers as part of a damage control measure following the shooting death of a teacher in Pattani's Khok Po district. Bunnam Yordnui was the 129th public school teacher killed in the past six years.

Among the measures to be undertaken, more soldiers and policemen will be posted at security checkpoints, while helicopter patrols will become more frequent or mandatory along routes considered to be at high risk of attack, Pattani Governor Theerathep Sriyaphan said.

Another crucial measure will be to boost the morale of teachers, said the governor, by encouraging them to place their trust in the security forces. We don't really see the connection, but maybe the governor has something up his sleeve. He also urged them to cooperate with and notify security officials if they leave their school compounds earlier than scheduled. It was noted at the meeting that Bunnam had left the school earlier than normally scheduled and that he did not notify soldiers about his plan.

Being a senior government official tasked with bridging the trust gap between local residents and the state apparatus, and among government officials themselves, is not easy. After awhile, officials find themselves repeating the same lines. More checkpoints and routine patrols and other crucial measures? How many times have we heard this before?

Yes, there are plenty of checkpoints all over the restive region, where more than 4,100 have died since January 2004. But they don't seem to form any real security grid or catch the insurgents responsible for the attacks. Most of these checkpoints are not manned, as security forces opt for the cool shade rather than the hot sun, where they find themselves functioning more like traffic cops rather than a security force on the lookout for insurgents.

The top brass should know by now that the insurgents don't use paved roads but the dirt tracks that few security personnel dare to drift onto unless they are part of a reconnaissance patrol.

Many of these soldiers are young men from other parts of the country who couldn't pay their way out of the military draft, and have found themselves duty bound to an assignment where the end couldn't come sooner.

The troop surge and the high-tech weapons have done virtually nothing in terms of curbing the ongoing violence. Many of the security planners still think Thailand is fighting a conventional war as if the armed forces were fighting off an invading army from abroad - thus, the high number of troops and military hardware. But in this classic insurgency, all the insurgents have to do is simply exist to make themselves relevant.

The issue here is not that the Army is being outfought. The Thai state is being out-governed. And the humiliating thing is that the insurgents do not have any administrative apparatus to govern the people. What they have done, however, is capture the imagination of the people - their mental space - as opposed to geographical space.

The military puts foreign journalists on Army helicopters and tells them, "See, no insurgents anywhere."

Thailand is not losing territory to the insurgents, but the country is losing the support of the Malay Muslim community. The southern people, like the militants, share the same sentiments and historical mistrust of the state.

Perhaps the answer to this problem is not how many checkpoints are put up or how tight the security grids are. The state keeps pouring money into the deep South but doesn't seem to have a real sense of whether this development money is achieving its objectives. We don't seem to understand that good intention is not policy and that handouts do not equal empowerment.

There has to be a sense of ownership. Instead of talking about autonomy and special status for the region, so that more local people can get administrative seats, perhaps it's better to talk about justice, equality and social mobility. Perhaps then, the Malay Muslims won't feel they are living in an occupied territory.
The Nation Thailand

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