Failed response to Islamist attacks led to Thai coup

Times:

THE Royal Thai Army will adopt new tactics against a militant Islamic uprising, following the coup that sent Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister, into exile in London last week. According to sources briefed by the army high command, Thaksin’s bungled response to the insurgency in southern Thailand, which has claimed 1,700 lives in two years, was a critical factor in the generals’ decision to get rid of him.

Military intelligence officers intend to negotiate with separatists and to use psychological warfare to isolate the most violent extremists, in contrast to Thaksin’s heavy-handed methods and harsh rhetoric.

The coup leader, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, is a Muslim who has sworn loyalty to Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the symbol of nationhood in this majority Buddhist country of 65m people.

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A final spur for the coup came when bomb explosions tore through the south’s commercial and tourist centre of Hat Yai last Saturday night, killing a Canadian visitor and three others, wounding dozens and prompting holidaymakers to flee.

Shocked Thai officials conceded that the terrorism could no longer be contained and might spread north to resorts such as Phuket and Koh Samui, with catastrophic results for the £5 billion-a-year tourist industry, still reeling from the 2004 tsunami.

That may explain the muted response to the coup from the United States and Britain, which deplored the damage to Thailand’s young democracy but did not call for Thaksin’s restoration to office.

The coup, in fact, coincided with a low-key conference in Singapore including CIA officials, Pentagon analysts and academics, which heard pessimistic assessments of the deteriorating situation in southern Thailand. “The degree of extremist religious activity in the south is extraordinary,” said one participant, Professor Zachary Abuza of Simmons College, Boston. “There has been a complete failure of intelligence. No one knows who the insurgents are. They don’t have a face.”

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It is not clear that the proposed change in strategy will be anymore effective in dealing with the true believers that make up the Islamist insurgency. When they believe that compromise will send them to hell and dying in battle will send them to Paradise, it is not hard to see which side has the most incentive.

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