Thailand's counter-insurgency operations
One year since the coup of September 2006 that ousted Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the insurgency in the country's majority Malay Muslim southern provinces (Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat) and four districts of Songkhla province shows little signs of a significant decline. Indeed, at the time of the coup, the total death toll since the January 2004 escalation of violence was approximately 1,400. By mid-September 2007, this figure had risen to 2,579, according to the Independent News Institute based in Pattani province.
However, coup leader and then-commander-in-chief of the Thai Armed Forces, Sonthi Boonyaratkalin (now deputy minister), claimed at the time of the one-year military take over that despite this increased death toll, progress had been made in reducing the violence, gaining support from the Muslim population in the deep south, and disrupting the enigmatic insurgent networks. According to the army-backed government, it has acquired increased knowledge of these networks through interrogations, although the key leaders behind the violence - if they actually exist in this multi-faceted insurgency - still remain unknown. These positive assertions come in the wake of three months of security operations that began in June 2007 and have yielded a larger number of captured militants and suspected supporters. To what extent are the administration's claims justified?
Stemming the turbulence in the south was one of the reasons cited by the ruling junta for last year's coup. The takeover was presaged by increasing complaints from Sonthi and other influential military figures, including the president of the Privy Council General Prem Tinsulanonda, who argued that unified action by the security forces was being severely compromised by political interference. Following the coup, Sonthi, as chairman of the new Council for National Security (CNS) - the eight-man junta that appointed the new government - was given enhanced executive powers to deal with the southern crisis. Sonthi and the junta-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont embarked on a new policy that emphasised reconciliation and the rule of law.
Following Surayud's public apology to the Muslims of the south in early 2006 for the mistakes of the Thaksin government, which was not well-received by the Buddhist minority of the region, a range of initiatives were introduced, including the re-establishment of the Southern Border Provinces' Administrative Centre and its associated liaison and intelligence arm, the Civilian Police and Military Command (CPMC) which was dissolved by Thaksin in 2002.
Sonthi took over the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and gained considerable funding from the government (some 7.9 billion baht (USD 250 million) to date), most of it classified under a secret budget. While ISOC's major activities were focused on combating Thaksin's remaining political networks, its Region 4 forward command in the south did assume an enhanced role in co-ordinating counter-insurgency measures.
Despite these and other initiatives, which included successful engagement with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the government's first nine months in office were marked by an intensification of violence in the south, with insurgents directing their efforts towards enraging Buddhists and provoking a violent backlash by the military. 507 of 4,255 words
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