Southern Thailand: The Problem with Paramilitaries,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group

Jakarta/Brussels, 23 October 2007: Thailand's increasing reliance on poorly trained and loosely supervised paramilitary and militia forces is complicating its efforts to tackle the insurgency in the South.

Southern Thailand: The Problem with Paramilitaries,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the need for the Thai government to review the use of irregular forces such as the paramilitary rangers and village volunteer militias and to crack down on private sectarian vigilante groups. The plethora of forces in the South complicates command-and-control arrangements, weakens accountability and, in some cases, exacerbates communal tensions. Instead, attention should be directed towards professionalising the regular military and police.

"Sub-contracting security to poorly trained paramilitaries and militias is no solution", says Crisis Group Analyst Francesca Lawe-Davies. "They often fail to provide security, and their involvement in human rights abuses hands militants a propaganda victory".

Thailand's government is relying heavily on paramilitary forces to fight separatists in the southern provinces. The various forces have different strengths and weaknesses and in some cases fill roles which the regular forces choose not to fill, such as village security and tracking militants in the jungle. But their growing front line role has on balance been counterproductive. Some receive as little as three-days training and are unable to protect themselves and their weapons, let alone the villages they are supposed to be guarding.

The inability of police and military to cope with the insurgency suggests the government cannot be expected to abandon the militias immediately, but it must consolidate and rationalise them, while also professionalising and strengthening the regular armed forces and police. The interior ministry's Or Sor paramilitaries may continue to play a useful support role until police become less corrupt and abusive. The rangers may prove to make a useful contribution to counter-insurgency, but should be given additional military and humanitarian law training and closer supervision, to improve discipline and curb abuses. The impact of the various village militias on security is negligible. They should be disarmed and disbanded, and controls on guns and gun licenses should be tightened.

The appearance of sectarian vigilante groups and private militias, in response to the failure of the state to provide effective security, is an extremely worrying trend. It is important that such groups not be allowed to operate and that their sponsors within the government and security forces be brought into line.

"The conflict in the South is extremely serious, and communal tensions are rising", says John Virgoe, Crisis Group's South East Asia Project Director. "Ultimately the situation requires a political solution - and, in the meantime, a serious response from professional security forces".

Read the full report



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