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Thailand's Gains Against Insurgency Remain Fragile

Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

When Thailand's new prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat, paid his first visit to the country's insurgency-wracked southern provinces last month, he was cautiously optimistic, commenting at the time, "I have been briefed by regional bodies and I consider the situation has improved, but we still cannot be complacent."

Somchai was wise to strike a note that balanced satisfaction with concern. Even skeptics grudgingly acknowledge that the Thai government is making progress in its fight against the insurgency in the restive Malay-Muslim provinces, annexed by the predominantly Buddhist country in 1902. Violence has plummeted by a jaw-dropping 50 percent compared to last year. More security checkpoints have been erected, with most of them now manned. (Only one in three or four were in 2007.) And nascent programs that emphasize local governance and economic development indicate that a non-military element is at least present -- if barely -- in the government's strategy, as opposed to being totally absent as it was when the violence broke out in 2004. ...

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