Experts have concluded that the bombings in Thai tourist spots that took place on the Queen’s Birthday were the work of southern insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). They warned that the government’s refusal to acknowledge this will only problematize the peace process.
At a public panel hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCC) on Wednesday, 17 August, analysts argued that all evidence goes against the government’s statements made after the attacks that the bombings were either set off by red shirts or hired Malay Muslim criminals.
On the eve and morning of 12 August, Thai Mother’s Day as well as the Queen’s Birthday, a wave of coordinated bombings exploded across five upper Southern provinces. The targets were popular tourist destinations, such as Phuket and Hua Hin, as well as government sites.
On Friday, the police have admitted
that 17 people, most of them red shirts, arrested during the past week for allegedly having involvement with the bomb plots are not related to the attacks in Thailand's Upper South. On the same day, the police said they have issued an arrest warrant for Arhama Lengha, which is the only suspect for the Mother's Day attacks. The police said Arhama is also wanted on other warrants related to the insurgency in Thailand's three southern border provinces.
Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, a former analyst from International Crisis Group, argued both historical and forensic evidence points to the work of BRN. Historically, the BRN has a distinct record of carrying out attacks outside the deep south, as in the New Year’s Eve bombing in Bangkok in 2006, a bombing in Phuket in 2013 and in Samui Island that same year.
The choice of targets — tourist attractions symbolising hubs of both economic activity and state security — also resemble that of typical BRN operations. Moreover, forensic evidence suggests the phone used to set off the bombs originated in Malaysia, a country viewed by many insurgents as a safe haven.
Rungrawee stressed also that southern insurgents are ideologically driven and would condemn carrying out operations for monetary gain as sinful.
While the timing of the bombings came in wake of a referendum that passed a draft constitution widely unpopular in the deep south, the violence is also rooted in long-term dissatisfactions with the Thai government’s inflexibility during peace negotiations
Unrest in the deep south emerged in the early 2000s over desires by many in the predominantly Malay Muslim region for greater autonomy. While the government was expected to endorse the Terms of Reference (TOR) for peace dialogues in April this year, this was delayed in part due to its refusal to guarantee insurgents protection from prosecution.
Characterising the bombings as a warning that insurgents will resort to violent means if the government does not take the peace dialogues seriously, Rungrawee advised the government to reinvest in peace negotiations rather than ignoring or suppressing the insurgents’ demands.
“The government should not try to cover up or distort facts for political gain. This will only worsen the situation in the country,” she warned, adding that, “The military has learnt from past years that heavy handed suppression is only counter productive.”
Tony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst for IHS-Jane, agreed that ignoring the claims of southern insurgents is unlikely to persuade them from violence.
Informed by interviews with BRN members, Tony argued that younger cadres are increasingly pushing for operations outside of the deep south both out of dissatisfaction with peace talks and to prove to supporters that their activities are seeing results.
“The BRN hasn’t made this strategic shift just to go home again,” he concluded.
Despite agreement over the bombing’s perpetrators, the panel was split over whether the timing of the attacks on the Queen’s Birthday was a deliberate criticism of the monarchy or merely an attempt exploit high tourist traffic on a public holiday.
According to Winyat Chatmontree
, a lawyer from Free Thai Legal Aid, the Military Court granted a permission to remand in custody the 15 people for 12 days. Their lawyer does not have a chance the object the custody request as the authorities brought the 15 to the court at the time nearly close to 4 pm, which is the court’s off time.