Connect to share and comment

Southeast Asia, explained

Thailand's red zones: who controls them?

Army chief insists efforts to quell Islamic separatists have not failed
Thailand deep south 2012 02 07Enlarge
Thai volunteers participate in a rifle-firing exercise session organized by the Thai Army to prepare villagers to fend off attacks by Islamic separatist insurgents. (MADAREE TOHLALA/AFP/Getty Images)

Who controls the Thai deep south's so-called "red zones," the areas considered by the military to be under the sway of armed Islamic separatists?

In a Bangkok Post interview, Thailand's army chief rejected a widely held notion that efforts to tame the rebellion have failed.

"Is any area taken? Is there any area that soldiers can't enter?" Army Commander Prayuth Chan-Ocha told the newspaper. "About 98% to 99% of locals understand what we're doing."

The army chief is correct: there is no part of Thailand's Muslim-majority south where soldiers can't patrol in their well-armored Humvees fitted with .50-cal machine guns.

But this is a rather low bar to reach. What really matters is what happens inside red zone villages -- there are more than 200 -- when troops aren't around.

As violence escalates, these villages remain places where government headmen fear for their lives, most Thai Buddhists have fled, state-run schools and Buddhist temples must be heavily fortified.

That hardly inspires an image of success, regardless of whether or not troops can enter these red zones, patrol for a few hours and return to their camps.


Featured Slideshow

The 2013 World Press Photo Awards

Culled from more than 100,000 submissions, these photos represent the best in photojournalism from the past year.