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Thailand. Bangkok Government needs to refocus Attention in the South

Bangkok/Brussels -  Unless the Thai government can give more attention to tackling the Muslim insurgency in the South, moving from a military toward a political solution, the violent conflict will intensify as the recruitment of young militants will accelerate.

''Recruiting Militants in Southern Thailand'', the latest report from the International Crisis Group, warns that the Thai insurgency in the South continues to enlist young Malay Muslims, especially from private Islamic schools. The recruits are driven not by global jihad but by a desire to defend their ethnic and religious identity from what they perceive as oppression by the Thai Buddhist state.

“Recruiters appeal to a sense of Malay nationalism and pride in the old Patani sultanate,” says Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, Crisis Group’s Thailand analyst. “They tell students in these schools that it is the duty of every Muslim to take back their land from the Buddhist infidels.”

The classroom is the first point of contact. Recruiters target devout, hard-working, well-mannered students to join extracurricular indoctrination programs. Religious lessons, educational trips and sport teams provide opportunities for recruiters to assess the young students for a period that can range from a few months to over a year. The students are then asked to take an oath of allegiance. Some then undergo physical conditioning and military training before being assigned to different roles in village-level operations. For those rejected for frontline service, there are secondary roles in the organisation, such as psychological warfare. Those under eighteen are mostly assigned to tasks such as spying, arson, and spray-painting “Free Patani” on roads.

Organisationally, the insurgency uses a clandestine cell network, in which rank-and-file members have no knowledge of the group beyond their immediate operational cluster. It also appears to be highly decentralised, with local units having a degree of autonomy to choose targets and carry out political campaigns.

Recruitment has also been fuelled by human rights violations of the Thai government, reinforced by the circulation of videos over the internet and through VCDs, and by the failure to hold security forces accountable for past abuses. The arrest or killing of a relative is a strong incentive to join the movement; so are cases of torture and enforced disappearances.

“The government in Bangkok has been distracted by its own turmoil but needs to refocus attention on the South”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “The violence will not end unless Malay Muslims’ grievances are addressed.”

June 22, 2009

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