Guns in the south

6 09 2009

The Bangkok Post (6 September 2006: “Gun culture booming in the troubled South”) has an investigative report on violence and rising gun ownership in the south. It begins: “There isn’t a single shop in the South of Thailand where a gun can be bought legally, but statistics revealing the number of people killed or injured by small arms point to the rise of a gun culture…”.

The article details a number of incidents and issues, observing that “Gun-related violence has touched people from all walks of life, regardless of their religion or gender.” Guns are “carried by soldiers, village volunteers, teachers and other civilians as well as militants and ‘trouble makers’…”.

Noting that the most recent upsurge in violence is dated from 2004 and the Thaksin Shinwatra government’s policies, the article asks, who’s got the guns? The answer is detailed and complicated. “According to records of the Firearms Registration Division, Ministry of Interior, in 2008 there were 19,353; 27,642; 40,303 and 72,147 registered firearms in Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and Songkhla provinces, respectively.” This doesn’t include the weapons used by the military, which has some 60,000 soldiers in the region or, it seems, weapons which are carried by state officials, including teachers. There are many, many unregistered firearms.

One study claims that gun ownership is determined by “ethno-religiously differentiated perceptions, justifications and impacts…”. The article adds that “Thai Buddhists feel they are in need of arms for self-defence due to ongoing victimisation by alleged Malay Muslim insurgents, as well as for protection of the motherland, a result of their heightened sense of nationalism.”

The same reports argues that having guns places the Malay-Muslim population “at a greater risk and increases their insecurity due to surveillance and possible searches by the Thai authorities, who are on the watch for popular support for the insurgent groups.” Significantly, the report also “says that civilian defence volunteers … constitute a threat to the security of the general Malay Muslim population.”

The report lists three major factors in a “state promotion of arms proliferation in the South.” These are:  “the dissemination of firearms by the government; the easing of regulations on possession of firearms; and state subsidies of gun purchases.” PPT added the emphasis here and in what follows.

The state supports arming some segments of the civilian population as one strategy to deal with the insurgent situation.” The government has schemes to “supply small arms to civilians and paramilitary groups known as rangers, Volunteers Defence Corps (Or Sor) and the Development and Self-Defence Volunteers (Chor Ror Bor).” State-sponsored weapons training is widespread.

Provincial governors “authorise a temporary licence which allows teachers to carry their own guns without going through the normal licencing procedure…”. In addition, the “government has also initiated a scheme to assist gun buying among state officials. The Department of Provincial Administration, under the Interior Ministry, operates the Firearms Provision project, under which gun shops or agencies in Bangkok bid for the right to supply guns to the department at a good price. The guns are then sold at a reduced price to officials.” TThe price reduction can be as much as 50%. Teachers can also get loans to buy guns.

The “Royal Aide-de-Camp Department received financial assistance to purchase 4,700 pistols and rifles, to be disseminated to teachers, security officers and village defence volunteers. Training is also provided.”

Academic studies show that the use of small arms is not for self-defense; mostly they are used “for acts of aggression and retaliation.”

PPT recalls that this self-arming and state support for arming civilians has been promoted by the queen. Asia Times Online (2 September 2009: “Religion, guns tear apart south Thailand”) has a special report by Brian McCartan has more on this.

It says that the “main government-supported militias operating in the south are known as Chor Ror Bor, or Village Development and Self Defense Volunteers, which are answerable to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and operationally come under the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). Under the Chor Ror Bor program, each village has 30 volunteers who are provided by the military three days of training and 15 shotguns.” This group has 47,400 armed volunteers.

The report points out that the “Or Ror Bor were founded by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit in September 2004 in response to an attack on a Buddhist village in Narathiwat province, where she was residing at the time at her Taksin Ratchanives palace…. Queen Sirikit gave a notable speech on November 16, 2004, in which she suggested Thai Buddhists in the three southern border provinces learn how to shoot…”.

This Asia Times report provides considerable information on training and arming of these groups. Both articles make for disturbing reading. Read together, they explain the links between state policies, royal intervention, violence and the decline of human rights in the south.



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