Why is Thailand still such a dangerous place?

opinion June 13, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

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The junta, seemingly incapable of stopping the bombs and other criminal activities, tries to wish away foreign criticism

Rather than having the foreign and tourism ministries dismiss international organisations’ low opinions of safety and security in Thailand, it would be far better if the ruling military junta did its job effectively. It could start by admitting it has failed to guarantee citizens’ safety.

The National Council for Peace and Order that seized power in the May 2014 coup, toppling a civilian government, has yet to live up to its name. It has soldiers backing up police and other security agencies throughout the country, and yet no one feels completely safe. Threats to personal and public security are rife. The news media are full of stories about crime and violence committed by both locals and foreigners. We see cross-border crime, the smuggling of drugs, weapons and unfortunate people, insurgencies and even sporadic gouts of terrorism. 

The junta never seems able to explain the cause or causes of all this. There has never been a straightforward answer regarding the motivation behind the August 2015 bombing of the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok that left 20 people dead and more than 100 others injured, mostly foreign tourists. Suspects were eventually arrested and trials got underway. But where was the assurance that such a horror would not recur? Instead we’ve seen more bombs in the capital, some detonated, some not.  

Bombs went off in seven southern provinces last August, including in the popular tourist destinations Hua Hin, Phang Nga, Krabi and Phuket. No person or group ever claimed responsibility for those incidents, which also claimed several lives. The investigation was as shoddy as the intelligence was poor. Authorities ended up with mere speculation that Malay Muslim insurgents were behind the attacks.

There were more mysterious blasts in Bangkok this past April and May, in or around the government 

lottery office, National Theatre and military-run Phramongkutkhlao Hospital. Dozens of innocents were hurt, and the junta has yet to offer a satisfactory explanation. Only by chance was a package of pipe bombs noticed near a subway station and a shipment of grenades halted in the post office. Only because the transporting vehicle had an accident in Trat last week did we learn that military personnel have been making money by smuggling war weapons. Again, the junta is remaining infuriatingly reticent, inviting confusion, rumours and bitterness when it’s supposed to be fostering order and a sense of security.

Add to this the never-ending litany of violence in the southernmost provinces that has claimed more than 6,800 lives since 2004, and citizens can only ask, “Where is the peace? Where is the order?”

It is clear enough by now that the peace and order the junta had in mind was what it imposed on warring political factions through draconian, anti-democratic measures. It has been too busy castigating politicians, the media and “meddling foreigners” – accusing them of damaging Thailand’s image – to address the very real security threats that seem to be increasing in number and severity by the week.

Denunciation of international assessments – such as the latest one on travel and tourism from the World Economic Forum – will not improve Thailand’s reputation for being a relatively dangerous place. That can only be achieved by making the country safer, by stopping the bombings and minimising severe crime. That is also part of the peace and order we seek.