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Unpacking Thailand's southern conflict: The poverty of structural explanations

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Violence in southern Thailand can be interpreted in many ways. Recent survey study, however, shows that people are now becoming more inclined to attribute the violence to the activities of militants and extremists, acting in the name of separatist or similar movements. The empirical data also illustrate that escalation of southern violence in recent years makes obvious the patterns of target-oriented and well-planned attacks, as demonstrated in many cases of violent attacks on civilians and government officials in 2004 and 2005. On the other hand, structural statistics indicate that poverty may not be the root cause of crisis, as direct relationships between incidents of poverty and violence are thus far ambiguous. The survey findings that form the basis of this article demonstrate that social grievances may serve as necessary conditions behind the bloodshed, but the decisive factors driving are upsurge of violence lie in the movements' ideological beliefs. To obtain a clearer understanding of the nature and implications of attacks on civilians since the beginning of 2004, we sent questionnaires to key informants in communities that had experienced violence. Clearly, militant activities in local communities were widespread, and were believed to account for the overwhelming majority of the attacks. During the first half of 2005, Muslim victims of political murders began to exceed Buddhist victims. The growth of this Muslim-on-Muslim violence is one of the most important trends of the data. To conclude, the most important questions concern the psychology and motivations of those behind these increasingly vicious attacks. The ideology of the militants is no longer the romantic, low-key separatism of the past: the latest waves of attacks have had a much more aggressive and ruthless character.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Prince of Songkla University, Pattani

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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