In all the recent news about the southern Thailand insurgency—a failed attack by insurgents on a marine base in the south, and a string of attacks in recent days that included at least fifty bombings and shootings—there has not been enough attention paid to the motivations of some of the insurgents killed in the last week. In the Bangkok Post, Veera Prateepchaikul alludes to the problem: Several of the insurgents killed by Thai forces in the marine attack had been present at a protest in 2004 at Tak Bai at which at least seventy-eight protestors were stuffed into hot, airless trucks and ultimately suffocated to death.
As Veera notes, the alleged head of the attackers on the marine base, Maroso Chatharawadee, was present at Tak Bai. After the protest, he was arrested and allegedly beaten by soldiers with rifle butts. His mother told reporters that the treatment by the army helped radicalize him, and he has been implicated in a string of violent attacks since then, leading up to the recent marine base firefight. Several other insurgents involved in the marine attack also apparently were radicalized by the Tak Bai incident. The Thai army’s—and the Thai government’s —greatest failing in the south is its utter lack of winning local hearts and minds, key to any effective counterinsurgency. It is indeed shocking that after so many years, and so much training—both from foreign armies and from Thai officers who effectively handled counterinsurgency during the 1970s in the Thai northeast—the Thai soldiers who operate in the south seem to have picked up so little from common counterinsurgency strategy guides.
Though the insurgents are certainly ruthless and brutal, the army also has been, and for a decade no army officers or rangers have been held accountable for their actions in the south, Veera writes. Instead, they have helped generate a newer, even more alienated generation of southern militants.