Q+A-What's fuelling Thailand's southern insurgency?
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By Martin Petty
BANGKOK, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Bombs killed one security officer and wounded another in Thailand's restive deep South on Thursday during a visit by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to promote an economic stimulus programme aimed at restoring peace.
The bombings underlined the failure of successive governments to tackle a separatist insurgency in the Malay Muslim-dominated region, which entered its sixth year on Monday with a death toll of nearly 4,000.
WHO IS BEHIND THE INSURGENCY?
No group has publicly come forward but most analysts believe the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) Coordinate is running the show, possibly in cooperation with remnants of the Patani United Liberation Front (PULO).
BRN is said to be a military offshoot of the Patani Malay National Revolutionary Front, a political movement established in the 1960s to seek independence, or at least autonomy, for the region's ethnic Malay Muslims.
The current leaders are unknown. The government believes they may be hiding in Malaysia, Indonesia or Europe. The authorities have long suspected prominent local politicians, religious leaders and Islamic teachers of involvement.
HOW IS THE GOVERNMENT TACKLING THE VIOLENCE?
"Iron fist" military action, "hearts and minds" campaigns and development aid have all failed, and the huge security presence has angered the local population.
Abhisit's government has ruled out negotiations with the rebels and has opted for a five-year $1.93 billion economic stimulus programme he hopes will reduce the economic disparity in the impoverished region and minimise the influence of the rebels.
Counter-insurgency measures have failed so far and the military's intelligence capabilities are basic, with few locals willing to inform on the insurgents, many of whom live freely in their villages. Abhisit says he is open to a decentralised local administration but seems reluctant to pursue it.
WHERE DOES THE SEPARATIST SENTIMENT COME FROM?
The region was once an independent Malay Muslim sultanate called Patani. Thailand, then Siam, first invaded in 1786 and, according to historians, forced many people into slavery.
Patani was annexed by Siam in 1909 in a treaty with Britain and successive governments sought to assimilate the population into the Thai Buddhist mainstream, with bans on Islamic schools and attire and the outlawing of the Malay dialect, Muslim names and the teaching of local history.
Uprisings were aggressively put down by the authorities and pro-independence figures disappeared or were killed. Deep resentment festers. Many Muslims say Thailand and its people have long refused to recognise their different identity.
ARE OUTSIDE GROUPS INVOLVED?
Despite reports of links to radical Islamists or a global jihadi movement, there is no evidence to suggest the conflict is anything more than a localised, ethno-nationalist struggle.
However, aggressive crackdowns, any extrajudicial killings by security forces and the perceived oppression of Muslims could attract involvement by militant Islamic networks such as al Qaeda, leading to an escalation in and beyond the region.
WHAT ARE THE REBELS' CAPABILITIES?
They rarely pick a fight they cannot win. Their attacks are brutal, simple and highly effective, ranging from drive-by shootings and beheadings to arson and bombings.
But beneath the surface, analysts say, the reclusive rebels have a complex multi-cell structure of recruitment, combat and control, with the leadership known only to a few members. One prominent academic described it as "a network without a core".
The military estimates the movement has 3,000 operatives, among them guerrilla fighters, informants and spies, who spread fear and intimidation among Muslim villagers to avoid detection and protect the group's identity.
WILL THE VIOLENCE SPREAD?
The eruption of hostilities in 2004 led to fears that the militants would attack Western targets in Bangkok or holiday hotspots such as Phuket or Pattaya. That has not happened.
Analysts say rebels are attacking the Thai state from inside the three provinces to protect and preserve the Malay Muslim identity. Some suggest attacks elsewhere may be beyond their capability. Others, however, do not rule out an escalation beyond the deep south if the insurgents fail to get what they want. (Editing by Alan Raybould and Alex Richardson)
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