There are no links between Islamic State (IS) militants and insurgents in Thailand’s Deep South, according to a new study by the International Crisis Group (ICG).
Leaders in the country’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region overwhelmingly reject the ideology espoused by IS, the Brussels-based group argues in the report, “Jihadism in Southern Thailand: A Phantom Menace,” which came out this week.
There is no evidence to date that the Middle East-based extremist organization has made any inroads into the Deep South, partly because insurgents there are nationalists who seek to create their own independent state, ICG said.
“Fears of jihadist influence based primarily on the argument that ‘things can change’ must be weighed against evidence that there is no appetite among the leadership of existing militant groups for affiliation with ISIS or like-minded groups,” ICG stated, using another acronym for IS.
Such fears have sharpened with the decline of Islamic State as it loses territory in its traditional Middle Eastern strongholds, along with the advent of IS-linked violence in Southeast Asia that has revealed “the possibility of a new era of transnational jihadist terrorism in the region,” the ICG suggested in its report.
“Indeed, the Malay-Muslim insurgency is distinguished by its parochialism. The militant organization pursues national self-determination over a specific territory, seeking to join, rather than destroy, the international system,” the report said.
ICG also warned Thai government officials against complacency toward the decades-old separatist conflict in the south, in which nearly 7,000 people have died since 2004.
Impatience with an ongoing peace process involving the government and MARA Patani, an umbrella group representing militant organizations in the region, could encourage splinter factions among the rebels to take extreme action, said ICG, a Belgium-based organization whose stated goal is to prevent wars and shape policy to build a more peaceful world.
To create the 31-page report, ICG researchers interviewed members of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and other southern Thai insurgent groups, Muslim leaders, academics, professionals, military and police officers, and several Malay-Muslim women in the Deep South and neighboring countries since mid-2016.
Full story: BenarNews
Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Mariyam Ahmad
Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand
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