Thailand

Bangkok blast as southern insurgency simmers

A bomb blast at the tourist-packed Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok killed at least 20 and injured some 80 more Aug. 17. The following day, with the city still on edge, a small explosive device was thrown from a bridge towards a crowded river pier, sending a plume of water into the air but causing no casualties. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Thai authorities have been circumspect in assigning blame. Police say they have not ruled out any group, including elements opposed to the military government, which took power in a coup last year. But officials said the attack did not match the tactics of Muslim insurgents in the south. (Al Jazeera, Reuters, Aug. 18) Despite peace talks with the southern separatists, the insurgency continues at a low level. On July 20, a shoot-out with security forces left two presumed militants wounded in Nong Chik district of Pattani province. (Bangkok Post, July 20) Graffiti rejecting the peace talks was earlier this month spray-painted on roads in Khok Pho and Nong Chik districts of Pattani. The message written in Thai read, "What do we get from negotiating with the army?" Talks between the government and separatists, facilitated by Malaysia, are set to resume by the end of the year. (Bangkok Post, Aug. 2)

Thailand deports over 100 Uighurs to China

Thailand on July 9 deported 109 Uighurs back to China despite international warnings that the refugees will experience severe treatment upon returning. Significant opposition to the decision erupted as pro-Uighur protesters attacked the Thai consulate in Istanbul, leading to security forces pepper-spraying the crowd. Amnesty International called the deportations violations of international law. The refugees had been detained in Thailand since last year, along with approximately 50 other Uighurs, whose deportations remain pending. [Amnesty called on Thailand not to deport the remaining 50, and on China to reveal the whereabouts of those already deported.] About 170 Uighurs were deported back to Turkey recently after their nationality was definitively determined.

Thailand: editor sentenced for defaming king

A military court in Thailand on Nov. 24 sentenced web editor Nut Rungwong to four-and-a-half years in jail for publishing an article five years ago that the court ruled defamed the nation's king. Thailand's lese-majeste law, which punishes people who defame, insult or threaten the monarchy, is one of the harshest in the world with jail terms of up to 15 years. Rungwong's sentence was cut in half because he pleaded guilty to the charge. Rungwong edited the Thai E-News website which is now blocked by censors. He was charged for publishing an article in 2009 written by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a former university political scientist and radical Thai intellectual who fled to Britain in 2009.

Worldwide despots: Orwell still dangerous

George Orwell, and especially his dystopian novel 1984, has long been appropriated by neocons and (before that) Cold War hawks in the West. It's almost heartwarming to know that international despots still consider it dangerous. Seemingly oblivious to their own irony, police in Egypt last week arrested a 21-year-old student near the entrance of Cairo University for carrying a copy of 1984. It is unclear if the student, identified only as "Mohamed T," will face charges. The Egyptian Interior Ministry actually issued a statement explaining the arrest, innocently and not quite accurately saying that the novel "talks about military regimes which rule in corrupt countries." (The Week, UK, Nov. 10)

China factor in the fight against ISIS

We've noted that Iran is a de facto member of the Great Power convergence against ISIS, but the Islamic Republic wasn't invited to today's summit in Paris, where leaders of some 30 nations pledged to support Iraq in its fight against the so-called "Islamic State" by "any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security." However, the two principal US imperial rivals were there: Russia and China. Of course we can take the reference to "civilian security" with a grain of salt, and the final statement made no mention of Syria—the stickiest question in the ISIS dilemma. (AFP via Lebanon Daily Star, Sept. 16) China's interest in the issue was crystalized over the weekend by the arrest in Indonesia of two ethnic Uighurs on suspicion of ties to ISIS. The two were detained in Central Sulawesi province, said to be a "major hotbed of militancy," in a sweep of suspected ISIS recruits. They had allegedly procured false passports in Thailand, and were in possession of literature and other paraphernalia with ISIS insignia. (SCMP, Sept. 15)

Golden Triangle opium boom

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its newly released annual Southeast Asia Opium Survey (PDF) finds that opium production in Burma continued to increase in 2013—up 26% to an estimated 870 metric tons. This is the highest amount since the UN began keeping track in 2002. In 1999, the Burmese regime promised to eradicate opium production by 2014, but production has increased every year since 2006. The UNODC report acknowledges that eradication efforts have failed to address the political and economic factors that drive farmers to grow opium in the first place. With poppy fetching 19 times more than rice, struggling peasants have few other options to make a living.

Ukraine, Thailand, Italy: hope and contradiction

This week saw an amazing turn of events in the current reprise of the inter-factional protests that shook Thailand three years ago: riot police in Bangkok yielded to the protesters they were ordered to disperse, in apparent defiance of their commanders. The police removed barricades and their helmets as a sign of solidarity. Disobedience of orders for repression is an incredibly hopeful sign; if this sets an example for similar situations around the world, the horizons of possibility for nonviolent revolution are broadened almost dizzyingly. What complicates it is that while in 2010 it was the populist Red Shirts that were protesting the government and the patrician Yellow Shirts that were rallying around it, today the situation is reversed. The Yellow Shirts are seeking the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister (and perceived puppet) of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and whose restoration to power the Red Shirts had been demanding last time around. (VOA, Dec. 13; Political Blind Spot, Dec. 6)

Burma: pipeline plans behind Rohingya cleansing?

Burma's persecuted Muslim Rohingya people were in the news again over the weekend with the Thai navy's denial that its forces opened fire on a group of refugees off the country's southwestern coast last month, killing at least two. Survivors said that Thai naval troops fired a boat of around 20 refugees off Thailand's Phang Nga province on Feb. 22, as they jumped into the water to escape custody. "Navy personnel fired into the air three times and told us not to move," a refugee told Human Rights Watch (HRW). "But we were panicking and jumped off the boat, and then they opened fire at us in the water." More than 100,000 Rohingyas have been displaced since ethnic violence broke out in western Burma last year. Burma refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens and labels the minority of about 800,000 as "illegal" immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh—which in turn disavows them as nationals.  (BBC News, March 15; Press TV, March 13)

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