Tuesday, July 22, 2008

FACTBOX-Key facts on Thailand's southern insurgency

July 18 (Reuters) - Thailand feared a spike in violence in its Muslim deep south on Friday after an unknown rebel group announced a "ceasefire" dismissed by some analysts as a hoax.

Here is an overview of the unrest in the predominantly Muslim areas bordering Malaysia where more than 3,000 people have been killed in almost daily bomb and gun attacks since 2004.

FLASH POINTS:

-- Thailand's three southernmost border provinces -- Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat which were once an independent sultanate -- have seen a century of sporadic separatist rebellion since their annexation by overwhelmingly Buddhist Thailand.

-- Home to most of Thailand's six million Muslim citizens, the predominately Malay-speaking region has resisted efforts by various military governments to import Thai language, culture and religion since the 1950s.

VIOLENCE:

-- Separatist rebels waged a low-level guerrilla war in the densely forested region throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but their campaign petered out in the 1990s after an amnesty offer.

-- The army-run Southern Border Province Peace-Building Administration, which included civilians and Muslim religious leaders, managed to control the violence in the 1990s.

RECENT RESURGENCE:

-- Unrest flared in early 2004 a few years after then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a police colonel, dismantled the army's southern border organisation and put police in charge of security.

-- Thaksin's deployment of 30,000 troops and police further alienated the population, especially after 78 Muslim men arrested after a protest died of suffocation in army custody in 2004.

-- After Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup, then Prime Minister Surayad Chulanont introduced a conciliatory "hearts and minds" campaign and said he would negotiate. But the bombs, beheadings and drive-by shootings continued.

-- Last year was the bloodiest since the insurgency began, with almost 800 people killed.

VICTIMS, PERPETRATORS:

-- Victims have come from both sides of the religious divide but have often been figures with ties to the state, such as teachers, judges or police, or immigrants from north Thailand.

-- With anonymous assailants often not claiming responsibility for the attacks, identifying the shadowy rebels has been a major challenge.

ECONOMIC IMPACT:

-- The region accounts for 10 percent of rubber output from Thailand, the world's top producer.

-- Rubber tappers have been beheaded by suspected militants. Fear of further attacks has forced farmers to tap later during daylight hours, which has reduced output.

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE:

-- Poor intelligence, bitter inter-agency rivalries and a legacy of mistrust between the government and the community have hamstrung the official response, and the use of military force has compounded problems, security analysts say.

-- Unrest has strained relations with neighbouring Malaysia, which Thailand has accused of harbouring insurgent refugees.

Sources: Reuters, Crisis Group (www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3389&l=1)

(Writing by Gillian Murdoch, Beijing Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by David Fogarty)

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