As usual, when there have been significant bombings in Thailand, the authorities immediately discount international terror and southern separatists.
This denial is almost a Pavlovian response by the elite and rulers to maintain the environment they feel encourages foreign investment and tourism, which have been the lifeblood of their wealth for decades.
Now, some time after the bombings and fires, more information on the military dictatorship’s response is available. Much of the early journalism, including by “academics,” was speculative.
To date, no group has claimed responsibility for the incidents. CNN and BBC are on a loop, referring to the explanations of Thai officials focusing on local politics.
At the Bangkok Post, it is made clear that, as with the Erawan bombing a year ago, the first likely culprits on the junta’s list are political opponents:
Authorities are giving weight to the theory that anti-regime elements were behind the deadly coordinated bombings and arson attacks that rocked the South and the resort city of Hua Hin from Thursday to Friday.
Apparently a meeting of security officials chaired by Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, guessed that “political issues topped the possible cause of the attacks.” As the post reports an anonymous source,
This could be the work of opponents of the regime or those who wanted to discredit the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which seems to have gained more popularity based on last Sunday’s referendum on the military-backed draft charter, in which most people voted in favour of the constitution….
As others have also claimed, national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said that domestic politics was the source of the attacks because “the attacks took place in the provinces where the majority voted in favour of the draft charter and … those attacks were aimed at damaging the government’s handling of politics, tourism and the economy.”
He claimed that “the investigation” suggested to him that “the incidents were linked to people who have different political views and may be connected to the violence in the deep South due to the similar use of improvised explosive devices…”.
There’s been little evidence of such links in the past.
General Prawit “ruled out a spread of violence from the far South as a cause of the attacks…”. He confidently stated: “This motive can be discarded. I confirm this is not the case.”
It is this kind of declaration without investigation that suggests that the military itself may be involved. (Our view is that the junta’s loyal forces are probably wasn’t involved, based on its previous actions. However, disgruntled groups in the military, with extensive links in the south cannot be ruled out.)
Some in the junta’s administration apparently thought that if its not local political opponents then international terrorism is “the second possible cause, … noting there are reports of Islamic State (IS) activities in Malaysia…”. Indeed, the Post states that a “source at the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Ministry said the SIM cards in the mobile phones used to detonate the bombs were from Malaysia.”
General Prawit was aggressive, declaring that he would “bring those responsible for the attacks to justice. He then lied: “I will have the perpetrators arrested. We succeeded in making arrests every time, and will also do so [this time].”
Of course, if it is “local politics,” the military has seldom arrested anyone at all.
The Post says Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha “refused to pinpoint the motive behind the attack, saying the investigation is still under way.” That sounds good, except that it is not true, as the Post makes clear:
I want you to think what happened before and after the referendum. Why did the incidents take place when the country is getting better and moving towards improving its economy and tourism. I must ask, who are the ones who do not want these things to happen? Who are they? Find them for me….
In the same statement, officially released, Prayuth pointed a finger at domestic political opponents.
Junta pimp , Panitan Wattanayagorn “said both domestic and foreign intelligence warned of possible violence before the referendum…. Thai authorities deployed officials to keep tabs on suspects and nothing bad had happened, except some violence in the far South.”
Is he saying there was a failure of security officials?
Meanwhile, the Post reports a cause for wider concerns:
A source in the 4th Region army said the attacks were the work of political groups connected to a political base in the South. An order was made to carry out attacks in the popular tourist destinations as well as key business zones in the South and in Bangkok.
As usual, it sounds like the “official” response is confused, confusing and potentially scary.
Update 1: The Guardian has an interesting editorial on the bombs in Thailand and domestic politics.
Update 2: New Mandala has a useful post on bombs and the south. Well worth reading. It also has an earlier post speculating on who might be involved.