Thailand: Bangkok Rumors and Police Reforms
July 10, 2007 23 12 GMT
Thai army intelligence suggests militant insurgents from the country’s restive south could be about to launch attacks in the Thai capital, Bangkok police announced July 10. If true, this would indicate a major shift in militant tactics. But the southern militants have little to gain from hitting Bangkok, meaning this is more likely an attempt by the police to boost their own standing, strengthening their say over a proposed bill for sweeping reforms to the police force.
Bangkok was put on alert July 10 after Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lt. Gen. Adisorn Nonsee said army intelligence warned that militants from the country’s restive south could be about to launch an attack in the capital. The police announced they are beefing up security in response to the intelligence.
To date, the militants’ violent activities have been confined to the south, concentrated mainly in the provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. Any escalation of violence beyond this region into the capital would indicate a major shift in militant tactics. Given the militants’ recent successes in the south — and given an interim government increasingly stressing negotiation, since its attention is otherwise occupied with keeping Bangkok politics on track — the militants have little to gain from hitting Bangkok.
The motivations behind, and interest groups driving, the southern insurgency are usually associated with religious and ethnic tensions, but corrupt police officials, drug smugglers and organized criminals also play a big part. Regardless of their underlying motivation, however, it is in all the militants’ interest to keep violence burning at a low enough level to avoid provoking a large-scale military clampdown, as happened under ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Bringing militant activity to the capital could indicate either that a more internationalist element is coming into play or that factions with stronger political motives have decided to up the stakes.
Previous Bangkok attacks have been linked to southern militants — such as the New Year’s Eve bombing. But recently, the police have displayed a tendency to issue multiple warnings that have failed to materialize into real threats. Widespread consensus inside Bangkok holds that the New Year’s Eve attacks and recent telephone booth bombings were the work of anti-junta politicians, an assessment with which Stratfor agrees. Unable to catch the culprits, the police often resort to statements pinning the blame on southern insurgents. Rumors have been circulating that future governments will seek to explain away unresolved Bangkok attacks in a bid for closure and to diminish the attacks’ associated political tensions.
This latest police statement, however, has not been instigated by an unresolved Bangkok attack. Instead, it is more likely an attempt by the police to boost their standing in Bangkok to strengthen their say over a proposed bill soon to be sent to Parliament. This bill relates to sweeping reforms to be made to the police force. The reforms aim to do three things: reduce corruption, reduce political interference and transfer the task of running the police force from the prime minister’s office to the Justice Ministry. The two bills in question have broad support from the police, though some elements unhappy that the measures’ drafting involved little consultation with the police are resisting the proposals.
The police traditionally have been a bastion of support for Thaksin. While Thaksin’s influence on Bangkok’s police is not as strong as before, pushing through legislation that would completely overhaul the police force structure would further help the government sever any lingering links between Thaksin and the police.
While the police’s future remains uncertain, the government’s recent run of success at maintaining stability inside Bangkok probably will not be derailed. The desire by Bangkok’s people for elections to proceed as planned, and for things to return to some form of political certainty — with or without a permanent military presence in the new government — is too great to allow instability to return to the capital city.
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