The Southern Unrest has taken a huge human and fiscal toll over the past five years, with 3,287 people killed and Bt109 billion of the state budget consumed to quell the violence.
Putting down just one violent incident last year cost taxpayers Bt88 million on average, according to the latest study conducted by Deep South Watch.
Assistant professor Srisomphob Jitrphiromsri of the independent research network said yesterday that Thailand might have to spend up to Bt300 billion annually over the next five to 10 years to deal with the insurgency in the border provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.
Based on records covering 2004-2008, every year saw an average of 1,956 violent incidents, requiring the state to expend altogether Bt109 billion to fight the upheaval during those years.
Overall, the conflict has already taken 3,287 lives and left 5,405 people wounded. Last year witnessed 718 incidents, down over 50 per cent from the 1,861 recorded in 2007.
Last year, there was one attack every two days - a great improvement over the previous four years, which averaged five incidents daily - but their severity has intensified, he said. The situation calls for a new approach from the government, otherwise this pattern of conflict and use of force would persist, he added.
Vaipoj Srinuan, deputy permanent secretary for defence, said the statistics released by Deep South Watch should serve as useful information and data to plan for a more holistic strategy in ending the southern conflict.
It is crucial to think outside the box in order to tackle the Southern Unrest successfully as social and other dimensions, besides national security, are also very important for policy-making, he said.
He also echoed Srisomphob's sentiment that judging from the numbers and pattern of the conflict, the southern situation has reached a stalemate.
Both Srisomphob and Vaipoj shared their opinions during a brainstorming session on the "Five-year Southern Violence: What's next?", organised by Deep South Watch and the Southern Thai Journalists Association. Prasit Methsuwan, adviser to the Federation of Teachers from the Southern Border, said that as the number of incidents had declined, Thai Buddhists living in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have also quickly dwindled.
At least 70,000 of an estimated population of 300,000 Thai Buddhists have already left the three provinces for other places. "In that sense, the insurgents have succeeded in embedding a climate of fear in those provinces," he said.
The three provinces are home to about 1.8 million people. Other participants and commentators were hopeful that the Abhisit government would be more receptive to views expressed by local communities and use them as inputs in the formulation of a future strategy.
They urged the new government to use political means to end the current conflict rather than focus exclusively on military force as had previous governments, which had led to more violations of human rights.
Looking ahead, seminar participants called on the government to restore the rule of law and bring to justice those committing crimes against the people living in southern Thailand.