A Widening Threat

2 minute read
Andrew Perrin | Bangkok

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s promise last month to back away from heavy-handed measures in dealing with the insurgents in his country’s southern provinces may have come too late. On April 3 a trio of bombs, detonated remotely and simultaneously by mobile phones, ripped through a hotel, a shopping center and an airport in the city of Hat Yai, killing two people and injuring more than 70, including four foreigners. The attacks came as a shock in part because Hat Yai, a regional commercial center 150 km north of Pattani, one of the provinces hardest-hit by the insurgency, had seen none of the violence that has claimed as many as 800 lives in the South since the beginning of last year.

Thaksin’s widely applauded shift in positionincluding a reduction of troop numbers in the troubled regionhas apparently done little to assuage the militants. In propaganda leaflets dropped in the South, they warned that the government cannot be trusted and that locals should not cooperate with the authorities. Now, Thailand is faced with the possibility that the insurgents are expanding their terror campaign into new parts of the country. “These militants are very provocative and getting more indiscriminate,” says Sunai Phasuk, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. “Their idea appears to be to try and trap Thaksin and the military into a cycle of violence.”

Thaksin hasn’t taken the bait. While the violence continued last week with a spate of bombings and shootings that left four people dead, the Prime Minister ruled out the idea of retaliating with force against the insurgents. At the same time he ordered a dramatic increase in security at the nation’s airports, embassies, and major commercial and tourist centers. Last week, hundreds of checkpoints and surveillance cameras were set up across Bangkok, including on Khao San Road, a tourist strip popular with backpackers. “We must remain vigilant,” says one senior military intelligence official. “[The militants now] have the ability to strike anywhere.”

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