A decade wasted in the deep South

opinion May 10, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

The trust gap between state agencies and residents means we are no closer to ending the insurgency

We are 10 years into the current wave of conflict with Malay Muslim separatists, during which billions of baht in taxpayers’ money has gone into beefing up security agencies, but the deep South seems little more safe or secure.
This week’s twin bomb attacks in Hat Yai showed that the insurgents can hit just about any place, any time – even in broad daylight. 
In the latest attacks they smuggled a bomb into a police compound, resulting in a massive explosion that destroyed more than a dozen vehicles and injured 10 people, luckily none of them seriously.
That the insurgents took their fight right into a police station’s car park was nothing less a gesture of contempt for the authorities’ sway in the region. 
Insurgency has been called a form of communication between non-state actors and the state. Let’s hope that our authorities got the message this time. 
The attacks on Tuesday were not the first time insurgents have struck at the heart of security installations. Last December they launched simultaneous attacks on two police stations in Songkhla’s Sadao district and a soi full of karaoke bars in Dan Nok, a mini-“sin city” that sits on the Malaysian border. Another bomb was parked at the back of a police station in Phuket, but it was discovered in time to defuse. 
The past 10 years have seen many more such attacks on police stations and outposts in the three southernmost provinces. Disturbingly, though, authorities’ operating procedures in the deep South have remained unchanged. 
Policy and security planners, regardless of the government in power, always talk about improving coordination among agencies in the South.
That common-sense measure seems to bring little improvement in security. 
We put up closed-circuit cameras, but that doesn’t seem to deter the insurgents. The driver of the truck-bomb caught on CCTV during the Hat Yai attack managed to disguise his identity merely by donning a cap to cover his face as he walked away from the police compound. So much for preventive measures.
We put up roadblocks all over the deep South. Yet the stolen motorbikes and trucks used for the bomb attacks seemingly pass through the checkpoints with ease. The truck that was used in this week’s Hat Yai bombing was stolen from Sai Buri district in Pattani. 
Routine security measures, such as patrols and roadblocks, become nothing more than gestures to give the impression that something is being done. 
There is also the problem of ineffective communication. The number of attacks on Tuesday varied, according to whether you gleaned your information from official sources or from the social media. 
Officialdom numbered the Tuesday attacks at two, while some online reports counted 10, including at Hat Yai International Airport, which was not, in fact, targeted. 
Unpoliced and unaccountable, the online social media are all too often sources of false or exaggerated claims.
Sadly, the proliferation of unofficial reports reflects the lack of trust citizens have for the official version of events.
The information gap also suggests that our authorities need to learn to communicate more effectively. Being transparent and honest is a good start if you want win the trust of the public.