Northeast Thailand: Tomorrow's Viet Nam?

Courtesy Reuters


Insurgencies spring from local conditions. Though a truism, this statement is still valuable in helping to determine the probable seriousness of present or threatened communist guerrilla activities. Conditions in Northeast Thailand make it in many ways an obvious seat of insurgency, and the Thai and United States Governments are increasingly concerned.

The area is large, impoverished and, until recently, neglected. Comprising about one-third of all Thailand, it is roughly the same size as neighboring Cambodia and has nearly twice the population. Geographically, the Northeast is a dry flat plateau, with sandy infertile soil, still largely under forest or scrub, and with insufficient water for effective agriculture or even for domestic needs. In consequence, the region is poor and its villages are largely isolated from the more prosperous central region of Thailand, and even-for lack of roads-from one another. The people of the Northeast, like most Thai farmers, own their own land; for example, in the Northeast (population 11 million, over 90 percent rural) some 95 percent of the farmers own their land. Thus there is virtually no problem of tenancy or of absentee landlordism as in Viet Nam, the Philippines or prewar China. But for all that, the Northeasterners have a per capita income only just over half the Thai national average.

The physical problems of the Northeast are enormous. Toward the end of the dry season-particularly from March to May-many of the shallow wells in the villages dry up completely. Then the villagers have to walk from one to three or four kilometers to the nearest deep well, carrying back all the water they need for washing, cooking and drinking. And the onset of the monsoon rains in May or June-lasting until October-is not an unmixed blessing. While at least in the dry half of the year the rough cart tracks between villages can be used by jeeps or motorcycles, during the rains the tracks deteriorate, fill with water and become impassable. As a result, provincial officials are restricted for

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