Why any negotiated solution to the insurgency will be extremely difficult
Institutional corruption and drug trafficking in Thailand’s deep south are important dynamics of the ongoing insurgency. These two issues have often been overlooked in most analyzes of regional conflict.
Until the early 2000s, drug trafficking in southern Thailand was mainly controlled by the Chinese diaspora based in Hat Yai, in Songkhla province. Hat Yai is the main railway junction in the south and the junction of major roads. The city has become the main transit point for heroin shipped from the Golden Triangle to Malaysia and the rest of the world via Sadao, near the border.
As the Chinese mafia shifted from narcotics and prostitution to legitimate businesses, the Deep South provinces and Yala and Narathiwat became larger smuggling transit points, taken over by local Thai-Chinese.
With porous borders along the mountainous areas of Yala, the Golok River along much of Narathiwat, and an area of ââhigh seas along the Patani coastal region, the Deep South has become the main smuggling region.
With the decline in the importance of heroin and the increase in demand for methamphetamines and crystal meth, this illegal trade has become much more fragmented. In addition to the production of narcotics in the Golden Triangle, producers are also emerging from countries like Cambodia, which brings more players into the trade.
According to Thai authorities, the drug trade in the Deep South has become closely linked with insurgent groups.
It was not necessarily designed by the central command of the insurgency groups. The command and control of insurgent groups such as Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) is not centralized, where the base cells most often act autonomously. These cells are exploited by middle-aged Malaysian residents and, more recently, young Malaysians, who have become involved in narcotics as users and sellers. According to sources, some operate protection rackets for smugglers in what one might call “tolls”, while others are more directly involved in smuggling. Others act as âgunsâ to protect gang territory and maintain the line between competing gangs.
Other sources report that rogue members of the Thai security forces are intensely involved in smuggling through southern border areas. Thai authorities have invested more than 264 billion baht in equipment and infrastructure, which is a perfect cover for illicit activities in the southern border provinces.
With over 50,000 military and paramilitaries in the region, and an equal number of officials working at the provincial and district levels, there are enormous opportunities for corrupt activity.
Areas where massive corruption takes place at the government level lie in annual military and civilian budget allocations, equipment purchases, infrastructure construction, and awarding of service contracts to third parties. The leakage of annual budgets could be more than 30 percent. This level of corruption is a deterrent for any peace agreement that would result in a dramatic reduction in the military presence and activities in the southern border provinces.
About 25 percent of the 7,000 deaths during the insurgency were caused by disputes and violence over drug trafficking in the region, which the United Nations is estimated to be worth between $ 30 billion and $ 61 billion annually in Thailand. . Much of this trade passes through the deep south.
Much of this insurgent funds has been laundered through Islamic savings cooperatives and Wakafs, or endowments to finance micro, small and medium enterprises in Patani, Yala and Narathiwat. As a result, the illicit drug trade has become a major pillar of local community development. To some extent, this source of funding has become a powerful tool for the insurgents to gain support and empower Muslim communities. The insurgents were able to offer the Muslim community assistance that the Thai authorities did not provide.
Muslim communities in Thailand’s southern border province are currently facing a narcotics epidemic where around 35% of the population is addicted to a cocktail of local kratom leaves, cough syrup and Coca Cola, often cut diced with ice. Most users are between 14 and 24 years old.
The Deep South Thailand uprising seen in this perspective helps explain why both sides have little enthusiasm for peace negotiations, which does very little to bring about a transition to peace in the region. At present, there are incentives to maintain the status quo so that money can continually be earned through embezzlement and leakage of funding through corruption, and smuggling of fuel, weapons. illegal, human trafficking and drug trafficking can continue unabated.
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