Last week the Thai Parliament passed a sweeping Emergency Power Law giving responsibility for security and the handling of the southern insurgency directly to the Prime Minister’s office. Prime Minister Thaksin is now able to do cool things like tap phones, make arbitrary arrests without charge and of course, censor newspapers.
Now, news of Thailand’s southern insurgency has been at a very low level hum in the western media since the death of about 80 Muslim protestors in Thai Military custody in late 2004. Murders, bombings, terrorism and police crackdowns have remained at a constant rate in the south, but as few foreign tourists visit the area in dispute and the insurgency’s ties to foreign Islamist movements are not widely regarded as significant (despite claims to the contrary by the Thai government), the stories in the western media remain little more than filler for when Britney hasn’t done something more interesting.
It is little wonder then that last week’s news of new laws to deal with the insurgency barely registered more than a few lines in any western newspaper. The laws though could have significant and lasting impact on the insurgency. What that impact is will largely rest with how Thaksin decides to use them.
Currently Thailand is taking a softer approach to the south than it has previously (though admittedly this seems to change almost monthly). As engagement seems to be the more likely way to solve the problem, foreign countries are also encouraging the Thai government in this direction. It will remain to be seen if Thaksin follows the advice he is receiving and shows strength by limiting his use of these new laws.