Questions raised after death of alleged separatist . . .
One of Asia’s least noticed – but at times, most violent – conflicts took a worrying turn on Tuesday with the death of Abdulloh Esormusor, detained by the Thai military under allegations of links to an insurgency that has roiled the country’s Deep South for decades. Human rights organizations have publicly cast doubts on these allegations, and the opposition Future Forward Party called for an autopsy to determine whether Esomusor had been tortured. The episode poses a political challenge for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, who was elected after Thailand’s first democratic elections in years – elections that fell under a cloud of suspicion because they returned Prayut, who had previously led the military government, to power.
Both sides ‘digging in’ . . .
The Deep South comprises four southernmost provinces, whose population is predominantly ethnically Malay and Muslim, in stark contrast to the rest of Thailand, which is predominantly Thai and Buddhist. In 2004, southern insurgents escalated the violence with a succession of attacks on government facilities and police. Many of the 7,000 casualties since then have been civilians. While there have been lulls in the violence over the ensuing years, observers have noted an uptick in activity in recent months. Joshua Kurlantzik of the Council on Foreign Relations says the conflict may be escalating because the insurgents believe that the military, which now has members in charge of the government, is “digging in,” showing little interest in dialogue.
Region’s ‘hot spots’ lighting up . . .
Canada has recently identified Southeast Asia as a region ripe for enhanced Canadian diplomatic and economic engagement. While conflicts like those in the Deep South may seem isolated and contained, the history and dynamics driving them must be better understood for effective engagement. This is especially true of the long-standing conflicts that are showing signs of reigniting, such as those in the West Papua region of Indonesia and the Mindanao area of the southern Philippines. Southeast Asia may seem like a region of relative calm and stability, but these ‘hot spots’ could be easily ignited.
- Council on Foreign Relations: Is the southern Thailand insurgency ramping up again?
- International Crisis Group: Jihadism in southern Thailand: A phantom menace?
- South China Morning Post: Muslim insurgent group in southern Thailand says it has opened a dialogue with the government