Winning with tech | Bangkok Post: opinion


The military regime hasn’t ended the violent conflict in the deep South. But it has succeeded in reducing both the number of murderous attacks and the deaths that result from such raids. Statistics from Deep South Watch and the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) are astonishing. They show a drop in attacks by insurgents from 1,169 in 2008 to 336 last year. It’s no accident, but rather the result of government plans.

The military regime in particular can claim credit for much of the life-saving that has occurred. And a lot of the junta’s success can be traced to a single decision. Installing closed-circuit TV cameras has surpassed the rather modest aims of the initial programme. It is virtually certain the steadily increasing use of cameras, and a rather crafty plan of positioning them, has brought two positive results.

The armed separatists of the deep South have been forced to abandon their long-time strategy of trying to wear down the government with small groups attacking police posts, army outposts and popular civilian markets and schools. Almost exclusively because of the CCTV cameras, insurgents were literally unmasked. For a while, the insurgents fought back by attacking the actual cameras. In the year before the coup, CCTV locations were burnt or smashed at the rate of a dozen a week.

Isoc and police came up with a new, strategic plan. At many locations, CCTV cameras were installed openly, on power poles and the like. But other cameras were set up, carefully camouflaged, to watch the exposed devices. Insurgents literally unmasked themselves to the hidden cameras.

The second result of the CCTV campaign as it grew in size and the number of installed cameras was a lowered crime rate. Criminal activity that was unconnected to the insurgency — assaults, robberies, rapes and much more — was caught on video and forwarded to police. The increase in solved crimes and incarceration of criminals has become one of the most popular government programmes ever launched in the three southernmost provinces. The popular support for the cameras brought popular opposition to the insurgents’ attempts to tear down the CCTV devices.

In all, it is fair to say that the programme to install and monitor closed circuit TV has saved hundreds of lives, prevented the wounding of thousands. In addition it has caused great setbacks to the insurgents.

The war in the South is not over — far from it. But for arguably the first time in several decades, the separatists are clearly on the back foot, trying to adjust to the new government success.

The insurgents have brought bombs to the battle. They also have moved their absurd and ill-considered demands for separation from Thailand out of the deep South. Bombs directly traceable back to the southern insurgents have been planted at tourist centres like Samui, Phuket and Hua Hin. The separatists also have bombed in other provinces in the South. This deadly threat has only made the already unachievable attempt at separatism look more farcical.

The success of the CCTV cameras is an example of why the regime and the next, hopefully democratic government must think “outside the box” about the deep South. The cameras have been a major factor in achieving one of the two main goals in the deep South — bringing down and finally ending the separatists’ terroristic murders.

The second and ultimate aim is to achieve an actual and acknowledged peace in the region. The Thai citizens of the deep South, like citizens everywhere, deserve to live in peace and security. Technology will never completely end the violence in the South but it shows the need for imaginative and new policies.