Between 10-12 August Thailand was rocked by a coordinated bombing attack in its upper southern provinces.
In 14 separate explosions in five locations, four people were killed and over 30 injured, including 11 foreigners. A further five fires are still being investigated at tourist areas and markets to see whether they are linked to the bombings.
The bombs went off in Hua Hun, Surat Thani, Patong, Trang and Phang Nga: all known to attract large numbers of foreign tourists. Despite targeting tourist towns, the bombs—mostly detonated remotely via mobile phones—do not appear to have been placed in areas in which they could injure large numbers. In Surat Thani, for example, two bombs went off outside a police station, possibly in an effort to embarrass the state.
It would appear from the choice of targets that the attacks were targeting the lucrative tourist industry, which comprises over 10% of Thailand’s national economy. Some tour agencies have unsurprisingly reported a wave of cancellations, but it seems highly unlikely that the attacks would have any long term impact on foreigners planning Thai holidays.
As yet no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks and investigations are ongoing, but there is plenty of speculation. A strong candidate are the Southern separatists, known for similar style bomb attacks, albeit not so far north and not targeting tourists. The ruling junta was quick to deny separatist responsibility, even before an investigation has properly begun. The political impact of admitting the possibility of separatist involvement so far north would not be a good look for the junta, which came to power promising to guarantee calm and stability.
As some scholars have noted that the Malay-Muslim separatists are a reasonably likely culprit. The south of Thailand has been embroiled in conflict for 12 years and more than 6,000 have been killed in that time. Between 1-13 August alone, 63 bombs exploded in the South of Thailand, but these 13 targeting tourist sites have made international headlines.
Directing attention away from the troubles in the south, the junta preferred to point the finger at their main opponents: the Pheu Thai Party and their Red Shirt supporters. A number of Red Shirts have reportedly been detained for questioning since the attacks. The junta has extraordinary power to detain and question people, and reports of torture and ‘re-education centres’ in the two years of its rule are alarming to say the least.
Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been quick to condemn the suggestion that the Red Shirts are behind the violence, saying he will sue anyone who accuses him of being involved. Indeed, the group has no history of political violence and there are few indications this type of action would be of any benefit to them, other than to embarrass the junta.
Authorities have announced they ‘know who was behind’ the bombings and that ‘it was an act of local sabotage, not terrorism. We do not have terrorism in Thailand’. It has been reported that they have two men in custody, but their identities are unknown.
One week after the referendum, which was seen widely as a victory for Prayut’s junta, the calm and stability the junta prides itself on bringing to the country has been shown to be a farce. The junta can deny that there is terrorism in Thailand, however the experience in the south proves otherwise. Regardless of who is behind the attacks, hopefully one result of this will be renewed international focus on the stalled peace talks in the south.
Caitlin McCaffrie is the Indo-Pacific Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.
Image credit: John Cook (Flickr: Creative Commons)