MARA Patani, the umbrella organization of the independence movements, say the orchestrated insurgent incidents, including a siege at a public hospital, in Thailand’s Deep South does not affect the dialogue and in turn emphasizes the importance of having bilateral agreement on the ceasefire zone. Moreover, MARA agrees that laws of war should be applied to the area.
On 13 March 2016, 17 insurgent incidents in the southernmost provinces of Yala and Narathiwat, including bombings, motorcycle bombings and shootings, left two security officers and two civilians wounded. According to Wartani, a local citizen media, the attacks were to mark the 56th anniversary of BRN, the secretive independence group which is believed to control most of the on-ground fighters.
Since the commencement of the peace dialogue between MARA Patani and the junta government, BRN has directly and indirectly denounced the process although a senior BRN member has chaired MARA Patani.
The militant operations on Sunday were carried out in six districts: Cho-airong and Su-ngai Padi in Narathiwat and Mueang, Bannang Sata and Than To in Yala. Most of the attacks took place in the two districts of Narathiwat.
The Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) in January 2016 announced a plan to establish a pilot project of Peaceful Districts, or ceasefire zones. Cho-airong and Su-ngai Padi were two of the five. The Thai authorities could not establish a ceasefire zone without cooperation from the militants, however. Since last year, the Thai authorities have told the media that they reached an agreement with MARA Patani on the ceasefire zones. MARA Patani, however, rejected this claim, insisting that any agreement could be reached only after Bangkok accepts MARA’s pre-conditions for the official talks, which are expected to begin in the near future.
“The signal, if there is any, is a reminder that if the Thai state is not serious about solving the root causes of conflict and not refrain from unjust acts that we see day by day, the armed wing of the movements will retaliate from time to time,” Abu Hafez Al-Hakim told Prachatai. “Since the agreed safety zones is not yet in place, there is no reason why this could be linked to rejection of Mara. The safety zones in Cho-aiong was a unilateral proposal from Army Region 4 . Considering the area is the stronghold of the RKK the retaliation is understandable,” said Abu Hafez.
Romadon Panjor, editor of the Deep South Watch website and an expert on the Deep South conflict, and Suhaimee Dulasa, a prominent activist and former president of the Federation of Patani Students and Youth (PerMas), agree that the attack in Cho-airong District could be read as a signal against the peace dialogue, but say it is still speculation.
“What is the intention of the militants in attacking the paramilitary camp near the hospital [on Sunday]? Does it relate to the ceasefire zone issue which the Thai state is demanding from MARA?” asked Suhaimee in his article
, published on Prachatai.
Romadon meanwhile told Prachatai that the fact that the attacks took place in Yala as well weakens the speculation.
Asked if the incidents on 13 March will affect the peace dialogue, Abu Hafez said he does not think that the dialogue process will be affected. “On the contrary, it is even more necessary to push it forward so that the safety zones could be agreed upon as soon as possible. The technical teams of both party A and B will finalise the Terms of References pretty soon. And if all are OK we expect the process will start officially in the near future.”
Abu Hafez Al-Hakim recently revealed in his article
that MARA will make only one demand to Bangkok.
Both sides urged to respect International Humanitarian Law; MARA wants to adopt laws of war
After the hospital siege, several civil society groups and activists condemned the militants and called for both sides to comply with International Humanitarian Law, or the so-called law of war.
IHL is a set of rules which seek to limit the effects of armed conflict. It is applied to non-international (internal) and international armed conflicts. The law, for example, forbids the killing or wounding of an enemy who surrenders or who is unable to fight; the sick and wounded must be retrieved and cared for, and medical personnel, supplies, hospitals and ambulances must all be protected. There are also rules on how parties to a conflict must treat civilians. Moreover, laws must be enacted to punish the most serious violations of human rights regarded as war crimes.
Abu Hafez said the group has acknowledge the call for the adoption of the IHL and that “we totally agree.”
“Referring to the latest incidence the primary target was the army/ranger unit adjacent to the hospital. While the target is legitimate, using hospital ground, facilities and personals en route to the attack is very much against the IHL. So was the decision to erect an army/ranger armed unit in close proximity to the hospital. In this respect both sides have violated the IHL,” Abu Hafez told Prachatai. “Therefore it is important that both sides must mutually agree on the safety zones in the peace process and principles of IHL be applied. both the Thai armed forces and the RKK must be educated on the principles of IHL and the rules engagement contained there in.”
The human rights network in the Deep South, consisting of the Duayjai Group, Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Patani Human Rights Network, on Tuesday said in a joint statement that although the insurgents did not kill or injure any patient or medical personnel, the siege of hospital per se is obviously unacceptable.
It further stated that despite the fact that Thailand has not recognized the three southernmost provinces as a non-international armed conflict area, International Humanitarian Law (IHL) should be observed by both the independence movements and the Thai state. It urged both sides to refrain from attacking or laying siege to not only medical facilities, but also educational institutions, religious sites and prayer sites, and other public facilities.
Suhaimee said the Thai Army has currently breached several of the laws of war, by stationing troops in residential areas, hospitals, markets, schools, mosques and temples. If IHL was applied, those military camps should be removed. Moreover, the state will have to refrain from torturing suspects, and the harassment of non-violent activists.
Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, has called the incident a violation of the laws of war, and said that individuals who order or deliberately carry out an attack on a hospital are responsible for war crimes, punishable under the IHL. “Claims by insurgents that attacks on civilians are lawful because the targets are part of the Thai Buddhist state or because Islamic law as they interpret it permits such attacks have no legal justification,” stated Human Rights Watch.
Romadon said Thailand is reluctant to accept IHL because it will elevate the political status of the independence movement, and recognize the conflict as internal war (non-international armed conflict). If the movement announces that it will observe the laws of war and is capable of following the laws in a transparent manner, the movement will gain recognition and status from the international community.
Romadon said the movement has begun to study international protocol on armed conflicts. He is however very doubtful whether the militant movement, which is very decentralized, will be able to follow the IHL.
Asked whether IHL should be fully applied to Patani, he recommended against it, reasoning that the laws leave room for the justified killing of civilians. “I think only some elements are enough, such as refraining from attacking civilian targets and residential and public spaces which may cause collateral damage, and refraining from laying siege to or attacking schools, religious places, and hospitals,” Romadon said.
Hospitals as a symbol of Thai state and a war zone
After the Sunday incident, police have found more than 500 cartridges in Cho Airong Hospital compound. According to Khao 3 Miti on Channel 3, all medical personel, mostly female, have very good courage. "We have very good courage and ready to serve the people here. We may shock at first but now our spirit is more than 100 per cent," Boonyarat Prapanwong, Director of Cho Airong Hospital, told Khao 3 Miti.
According to the Public Health Ministry, over the past 12 years at least 112 public health volunteers and hospital staff have been killed and injured, and 28 community health centres burned down or bombed.
According to the report “No one is safe: insurgent violence against civilians in Thailand’s Southern Border Provinces”, compiled and published by Human Rights Watch in 2007, the Patani independence movements view medical personnel and public health centres as legitimate targets in the attempt to eradicate the Thai state’s presence in Patani.
As a result, many community health centres have reduced their working hours and close their gates early to avoid attacks by separatist militants in the evening. For the same reason, doctors are becoming less willing to visit patients outside hospitals, leaving frontline daily public health work in the hand of paramedics and public health volunteers.
According to four informants in the report, most of them medical personnel and volunteers, medical personnel, volunteers and facilities have become primary targets of attacks despite the fact that most of the individuals involved are local Muslims. They received threatening telephone calls or letters warning them to stop working. One was shot and killed and another was chased out of the village by a militant.
The report stated that in 2006 and 2007, at least three community health centres in Pattani were completely destroyed by separatist militants. One of them was closed down indefinitely, while staff in the other two continue to provide services from makeshift offices.
Unsurprisingly, Louis Golomb in An Anthropology of Curing in Multi-ethnic Thailand, proposed in the 1980s that public hospitals and modern medicine were perceived in the Deep South as symbols of the Thai state, and thereafter, an entity in the conflict.
Sorayut Aiemueayut, a researcher in anthropology from Chiang Mai University, observed
that in the past ten years, thanks to development policies from Bangkok, the perception of the Muslim Malay toward public hospitals in the Deep South has significantly improved. “Many people don’t want to go to hospitals because they do not want to have contact with the Thai state and the medical personnel most of whom are Siamese, not Melayu,” said Sorayut.
The attempts to buy the hearts of the Muslim Malay include admission quotas to medical and nursing schools, and policies to increase employment opportunities for Malays in hospitals. This results in a higher proportion of Malay staff in public hospitals. Public hospitals have transformed themselves from a place that most of the Malay shy away from to a place symbolizing hope and a better quality of life for many Malay, said Sorayut.