South Thailand insurgency
The South Thailand Insurgency (Thai: ความไม่สงบในชายแดนภาคใต้ของประเทศไทย) is an intractable conflict taking place mainly in Southern Thailand. It originated in the 1960s as an ethnic and religious separatist insurgency in the historical Malay Patani Region, made up of the three southernmost provinces of Thailand and parts of a fourth, but has become more complex and increasingly violent since 2001.
The former Sultanate of Patani, which comprised the southern Thai provinces of Pattani (Patani), Yala (Jala), Narathiwat (Menara)—also known as the three Southern Border Provinces (SBP)—as well as neighbouring parts of Songkhla Province (Singgora), and the northeastern part of Malaysia (Kelantan), was conquered by the Kingdom of Siam in 1785 and, except for Kelantan, the area has been governed by Thailand ever since.
Although low level separatist violence had occurred in the region for decades, the campaign escalated after 2001, with a recrudescence in 2004, occasionally spilling over into other provinces. Outside the region, incidents blamed on southern insurgents have occurred in Bangkok and Phuket.
In July 2005, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra assumed wide-ranging emergency powers to deal with the southern violence, but the insurgency escalated further. On 19 September 2006, a military junta ousted Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup. The junta implemented a major policy shift by replacing Thaksin's earlier approach with a campaign to win over the "hearts and minds" of the insurgents. Despite little progress in curbing the violence, the junta declared that security was improving and that peace would come to the region by 2008. By March 2008, however, the death toll surpassed 3,000.
During the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya noted a "sense of optimism" and said that he was confident of bringing peace into the region within 2010. But by the end of 2010 insurgency-related violence had increased, confounding the government's optimism. Finally in March 2011, the government conceded that violence was increasing and could not be solved in a few months.
Local leaders have persistently demanded at least a level of autonomy from Thailand for the Patani region and some of the separatist insurgent movements have made a series of demands for peace talks and negotiations. However, these groups have been largely sidelined by the BRN-C, the group currently spearheading the insurgency which sees no reason for negotiations and is against talks with other insurgent groups. The BRN-C has as its immediate aim to make Southern Thailand ungovernable and has largely been successful at it.
Estimates of the strength of the insurgency vary greatly. In 2004 General Panlop Pinmanee claimed that there were only 500 hard-core jihadists. Other estimates say there as many as 15,000 armed insurgents. Around 2004 some Thai analysts believed that foreign Islamic terrorist groups were infiltrating the area, and that foreign funds and arms are being brought in, though again, such claims were balanced by an equally large body of opinion suggesting this remains a distinctly local conflict.
Over 6,000 people have died and more than 10,000 have been injured between 2004 and 2014 in a formerly ethnic separatist insurgency, which has currently been taken over by hard-line Jihadis and pitted them against both the Thai-speaking Buddhist minority and local Muslims who have a moderate approach or who support the Thai government.
- 1 History of the insurgency
- 2 Reactions and explanations
- 3 Leading insurgent groups
- 4 High profile incidents
- 5 Reconciliation and negotiation
- 6 Casualties
- 7 Human Rights Issues
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
History of the insurgency
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Despite the ethnic affinity of the people of the Patani region with their Malay neighbours to the south, the old Patani Kingdom was led by Sultans who historically preferred to pay tribute to the distant Siamese kings in Bangkok. For many centuries the King of Siam restricted himself to exacting a periodic tribute in the form of Bunga mas, ritual trees with gold leaves and flowers that were a symbolic acknowledgment of Siamese suzerainty, leaving the Patani rulers largely alone.
Forced assimilation and local nationalism
Thai rule over the historical Patani region was confirmed by the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909. However, until well into the 20th century, the government in Bangkok had interfered little, relying on local officials for the implementation of policies within the Patani region. This included an exemption in implementing Thai Civil Law, which had allowed Muslims to continue their observance of local laws based on Islam regarding issues on inheritance and family. However, by 1934 Marshall Plaek Phibunsongkhram set in motion of a process of Thaification which had as its objective the cultural assimilation of the Patani people, among other ethnic groups in Thailand.
The National Culture Act was enforced as a result of the Thaification process, promoting the concept of 'Thai-ness' and its centralist aims. Its 'Mandate 3' was directly aimed at the Patani people. By 1944, Thai civil law was enforced throughout the land including the Patani region over-riding earlier concessions to local Islamic administrative practices. The school curriculum was revised to that of a Thai-centric one with all lessons in the Thai language, to the detriment of the local Jawi. Traditional Muslim courts that used to handle civil cases were removed and replaced with civil courts run and approved by the central government in Bangkok. This forced assimilation process and the perceived imposition of Thai-Buddhist cultural practices upon their society became an irritant for the harmonious relationship between the ethnic Malay Patani people and the Thai state.
In 1947, Haji Sulong founder of the Patani People’s Movement launched a petition campaign, demanding autonomy, language and cultural rights, and implementation of Islamic law. However, in January 1948, Sulong was arrested on treason charges along with other local leaders branded as 'separatist'. Sulong was released from jail only in 1952 but disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1954.
Denied recognition as a culturally separate ethnic minority, Patani leaders reacted against the Thai government policy towards them. Inspired by ideologies such as Nasserism, in the 1950s a Patani nationalist movement began to grow, leading to the South Thailand insurgency. By 1959, Tengku Jalal Nasir established the Patani National Liberation Front (BNPP), the first Malay rebel group. At the time of their foundation the goal of the nationalist movements, such as the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), was secession. The emphasis was laid in pursuing an armed struggle towards an independent state where Patani people could live with dignity without having alien cultural values imposed on them.
The last third of the 20th century saw the emergence of different insurgent groups in the South. Despite some differences in ideology they shared broadly separatist aims, but all justified the use of violence to reach their goals, setting a pattern of attacking police and military posts, as well as schools and Thai government offices. The effectiveness of these groups was marred, however, by infighting and lack of unity among them.
21st century: The violence expands and intensifies
A resurgence in violence by Pattani guerrilla groups began after 2001. While the region's traditional separatist insurgents had flags, leaders, claimed responsibility for the attacks, and made communiques, the new groups attacked more viciously and kept silent. This new development disoriented and confused the Thai authorities, who kept groping in the dark as the identity of the new insurgents in the conflict remained a mystery. Thailand held relatively free elections in February 2005, but no secessionist candidates contested the results in the south. In July the same year, the chairman of the Narathiwat Islamic Committee admitted, "The attacks look like they are well-organized, but we do not know what group of people is behind them." Despite of the shroud of anonymity and the absence of concrete demands, revived groups, such as the GMIP, and particularly the BRN-Coordinate and its alleged armed wing the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK), have been identified as leading the new insurgency.
While earlier attacks were typified by drive-by shootings in which patrolling policemen were shot by gunmen on passing motorcycles, after 2001 they have escalated to well coordinated attacks on police establishments, with police stations and outposts ambushed by well-armed groups subsequently fleeing with stolen arms and ammunition. Other tactics used to gain publicity from shock and horror are slashing to death Buddhist monks, bombing temples, beheadings, intimidating pork vendors and their customers, as well as arson attacks on schools, killing the teachers and burning their bodies.
Current insurgent groups proclaim militant jihadism and are not separatist any more. Mostly led by Salafist hardliners, they have extreme and transnational religious goals, such as an Islamic Caliphate, to the detriment of a constructive cultural or nationalistic Patani identity. Salafi jihadist groups are hostile to the cultural heritage and practices of traditional Malay Muslims, accusing them of being un-Islamic. They are not concerned about an independent separate nation, instead their immediate aim is to make the Patani region ungovernable.
Thai response to the insurgency has been hampered by clumsy methods, a lack of training in counter-insurgency, a lack of understanding of local culture, and rivalries between the police and the army. Many local policemen are allegedly involved in the local drug trade and other criminal activities, and army commanders from Bangkok treat them with disdain. Often the army responds to the attacks with heavy-handed raids to search Muslim villages, which only results in reprisals. Insurgents routinely provoke the inexperienced Thai government into disproportionate responses, generating sympathy among the Muslim populace.
Main incidents after the 2001 insurgency upsurge
Attacks after 2001 concentrated on installations of the police and military. However, also schools and other symbols of Thai authority in the region have been subject to arson and bombing. Local police officers of all ranks and government officials were the primary targets of seemingly random assassinations, with 19 policemen killed and 50 incidents related to the insurgency in the three provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat by the end of 2001. Other targets of the insurgents have been schoolteachers. The BRN-C, through its 'Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani' paramilitary wing, has been the main group behind the murder of a total of 157 teachers in the Southern Border Provinces between 2004 and 2013.
A massive security presence in the region has failed to stem almost daily violence, usually involving drive-by shootings or small bombings. When the insurgents make a show of strength—generally at least every few months—they have eschewed large-scale attacks, preferring well-coordinated pinprick assaults at many locations while avoiding direct clashes with security forces.
On 3 February, an illegal oil trader was shot in Bacho District, Narathiwat Province. In a separate incident in Pattani Province a woman was killed and her husband and son were injured. Deep South Watch announced 33 dead and 55 injured in January as a result of clashes in south Thailand, with no insurgent casualties.
On 21 February, in Panare District, Pattani Province, 3 insurgents were killed after they clashed with the 44th regiment Thahan Phran, while 3 rangers were injured and 2 AK-47 rifles were seized. In Rueso District, Narathiwat Province, a former PULO leader was shot dead at his home. He has been known to have been approached by many RKK members to join their cause but he refused. Finally, in Si Sakhon District, Narathiwat Province, a 100-man Thahan Phran from the 46th regiment clashed with around 10 insurgents resulting one ranger, Sgt Rithidej Sriruangdej, seriously wounded, and key insurgent, wanted for many arrest warrants, killed.
On 28 February, in Raman District, Yala Province, soldiers from the 12th special task force clashed with 3 insurgents, resulting the death of a key insurgent wanted on multiple charges and the apprehension of another insurgent.
On 7 March 4 soldiers and a rubber tapper were killed in two separate attacks in Narathiwat and Pattani Provinces. Two days later at least 50 militants attacked an army base in Yala Province, shooting electricity poles down to block escape routes, kidnapping 2 soldiers and injuring 12 more. The missing officers were later discovered shot to death with their hands bound and their weapons gone.
On 12 March, two soldiers were wounded by a bomb explosion while providing security for teachers in Pattani's Sai Buri District. Meanwhile, in Yarang District, an unknown number of persons set afire the office of the Rawaeng subdistrict Tambon Administration Organisation.
On 15 March, a motorcycle bomb exploded in Pattani, killing one villager and wounding three others including two soldiers.
On 25 March, an assistant village head in Narathiwat and a defence volunteer in Pattani were killed in drive-by shooting's. At night, a policeman was shot dead by militants in Pattani's Yarang District.
On 19 April, a 100-man squad clashed with a 14 insurgents in Yala Province, resulting the death of 5 insurgents and the others managed to escape. After some forensic work, it was revealed that one of the dead insurgents was a key leader wanted on over 7 charges. Meanwhile in Narathiwat Province, a 30-man Thahan Phran unit from the 45th regiment apprehended 2 RKK members wanted on shooting 2 teachers in 2010. On a separate incident, a bomb detonated, injuring 5 soldiers in the same province.
On 25 July, after a warning that insurgents will intensify attacks during Ramadan, 5 anti-drug officers were killed and one seriously injured in a car bomb in Raman District. Authorities believe was in retaliation for recent drug suspect arrests.
On 26 July 2 men, Seng Changkid, and Kittisak Chamnanlee were slain after they left their house in Bannang Sata District and an assistant village headman, Haree Vaebuesar, was shot dead in an ambush in Raman District. All three events occurred in Yala Province.
On 28 July, four soldiers were killed in an ambush by 16 militants.
On 11 September, over 100 insurgents including a major leader, Jae A-Lee, from the group Badan Penyelarasan Wawasan Baru Melayu Patani, surrendered to military authorities, demanding justice in exchange for halting the insurgency. Jae A-Lee also claimed that two other core leaders are in the process of submitting to the military. Jae A-Lee's one million baht bounty, as a result of the deaths of 4 soldiers in 4 January, has also been whitewashed.
According to the region's Internal Security Operations Command, there were 320 bombings in the four border provinces between January and December 2013, compared with 276 reported bombings in 2012. Experts alleged that the rise in deaths was linked to the stalling of peace talks while Yingluck Shinawatra's government faced anti-government protests in Bangkok and court proceedings against it over corruption.
On 10 February, insurgents killed five soldiers and wounded five others in two roadside bomb attacks in Yala province. According to Thai military officials, in the first attack militants detonated a car bomb as a truck carrying six soldiers passed by. Then they opened fire on the soldiers killing five of them, and taking away the dead soldiers' rifles. 
On 13 February, at least 17 Muslim insurgents including a commander were killed during an attack on a military base in Narathiwat. None of the Thai military defenders of the base were hurt. 
On 12 April, two soldiers were killed and six others wounded in a road side bombing. Suspected militants detonated an improvised bomb hidden on the road surface Pattani province's Panarae district. The soldiers were in two armoured vehicles travelling Wednesday night to inspect damages from an earlier militant attack. One of the personnel carriers was badly damaged.
On 26 April, four soldiers were killed and another four seriously injured while attempting to defuse a bomb. According to Thai authorities, the blast happened after troops moved the device which was hidden under a gas tank and placed under a bridge near the Narathiwat military base. 
On 1 May, police say suspected insurgents have killed six people including a two-year-old boy in one of the deadliest shootings in Thailand's south this year.  Peace talks were also started in Kuala Lumpur in February at the behest of Malaysia. Barisan Revolusi Nasional's Hassan Taib led the talks, while the Thai government's team was led by Secretary-General of the National Security Council Lieutenant General Paradon Pattanatabut, tasked by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. However, the exiled leader of the Pattani United Liberation Organisation, Kasturi Mahkota, said attacks by his group would continue if they were not invited to the talks. For his part, Pattanatabut said that Thailand would not agree to independence or any contravention of the constitution of Thailand, but would seek to discuss degress of autonomy and an amnesty with the rebels. 
9 February, A policeman's wife was shot dead and then set on fire in front of a terrified crowd at a busy market in Pattani, Thailand, officials reported. The woman, 28, was shot down on the afternoon of 9 February 2014 as she returned to her car from a market in the Ratapanyang area of Pattani province. After being shot, the woman's body was set alight, a police officer told AFP. The attack was allegedly carried out in revenge for the deaths of three Muslim brothers that took place during the week of 2 February 2014, aged three, five and nine. The boys were shot in front of their home in neighbouring Narathiwat province. Their pregnant mother and father were also shot in the attack but survived. Srisompob Jitpiromsri, at Prince of Songkla University in Pattani, said the boys' deaths "have set off a chain-reaction which will be hard to control unless authorities can bring to justice their killers". "The insurgent movement is taking their deaths as an opportunity for revenge. Local feelings over this are running very high," he said.
14 March: Siriporn Srichai, a female schoolteacher, was shot dead and her body was burned in Mayo district of Pattani Province.
24 May: Three people were killed and about 80 injured in 13 bomb blasts at at least five 7/11 stores and two gas stations.
28 May: Violence continued in Pattani as a bomb blast at a hospital car park injured 10 people including a soldier. Those injured included Pvt Phonlawat Nonthasen. The most seriously wounded in attacks that have left two dead and more than 70 wounded was a three-year-old girl, Vaesiteeaija Vaelong maimed for life when doctors had to amputate the remains of her right leg after it was mangled by the blast.
28 August: Patimoh Saemaesae, a female schoolteacher, was killed and another teacher and a policeman were wounded in a bomb attack directed at the teachers and their police escort in Khok Pho District of Pattani Province.
5 Sep: It has come to light that a paramilitary volunteer's attempt to portray an unarmed 14-year-old Muslim boy falsely as an armed insurgent after killing him has come under investigation by the junta.
12 October: A total of six schools were destroyed by fire in six coordinated arson attacks in Thung Yang Daeng and Mayo districts of Pattani Province; some of the arsonists were subsequently arrested and confessed that their intention had been to set fire to 14 schools, but residents had managed to contact the authorities before they could carry out more arson attacks.
4 November: The military decides to arm civilian groups by distributing thousands of assault rifles allegedly to help civilians to fight against the public order disturbing outfits. Human rights groups have protested against this measure, which in their eyes will only make the situation worse.
29 November: Katesaya Muenkoto, a 29-year-old woman died of bullet wounds in Khok Pho district in Pattani Province. She and a man were shot at while they were buying pork meat from a shop in the early morning. The attacker was driving a motorcycle and shot at them six times, hitting the woman in the head and the man in the back.
On 9 January 2015, 3 insurgents were slain and 2 others detained, as security forces raided a religious school in Mayo district.
On 13 January 2015, a motorcycle bomb exploded damaging the vehicle carrying the Chanae District chief of Narathiwat Province. The officer and the other four occupants of the vehicle escaped unhurt.
19 January: A bomb planted in a drain exploded in Narathiwat town while a convoy of vehicles escorting teachers was passing by in Ban Buecho village, Bacho District, Narathiwat Province, in the morning. One teacher was wounded.
On 31 January 2015, a militant ambush conducted on the Pattani-Hat Yai road resulted in the death of a senior police officer, 3 policemen were also wounded.
4 February: A 25 kg gas-cylinder bomb exploded in Chanae District, Narathiwat Province, as a truck carrying ten police officers was passing by. All policemen escaped unhurt.
19 February: A series of car and motorcycle bombs explode in Narathiwat town. 13 people were wounded and at least 20 buildings were damaged. One of the string of bombs planted failed to explode.
On 1 March 2015, a large scale security operation took place in the districts of Pak Phanang, Cha-uat, Thung Song, Chian Yai, Nop Phitam, Tha Sala, Phipun, Muang, Ron Phibun and Chulabhorn. Resulted in the seizure of 35 weapons, 1,041 rounds of ammunition and 265 methemphatamine pills.
On 2 March 2015, a military spokesman stated that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Armies will begin withdrawing from the Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces in April. Move came as part of the ongoing peace negotiations between the rebels and the government.
20 March: A 25 kg gas-cylinder bomb exploded by the roadside in Ban Khok village, Tambon Chuap, Cho Airong District, Narathiwat Province, when a police vehicle passed by. The two officers escaped unhurt.
30 March: A homemade bomb exploded by the roadside in Rueso District, Narathiwat Province, as a police patrol team passed by. Two officers were injured.
31 March: Four bombs exploded in the business centre of Pattani town in the early morning hours causing material damage, but no casualties.
2 April: Two unidentified men were murdered by gunmen while hunting in Rangae District, Narathiwat Province. They were attacked and their guns were stolen while they were carrying home a wild boar they had hunted.
4 April: Two bombs exploded in Narathiwat Province, one in Chanae District and the other Cho Airong District. The first one was a gas-cylinder bomb planted next to the Chang Phueak tambon administration. The other one was targeting paramilitary rangers in Luborya village. Their vehicle was damaged, but the officers escaped unhurt.
Reactions and explanations
The government at first blamed the attacks on "bandits," and many outside observers do believe that local clan, commercial or criminal rivalries did play a part in the violence. In 2002, Thaksin stated, "There's no separatism, no ideological terrorists, just common bandits." By 2004, however, he had reversed his position and came to regard the insurgency as a local front in the global War on Terrorism. Martial law was instituted in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat in January 2004.
Since the 2006 military coup, the Thai government has taken a more conciliatory approach to the insurgency, avoiding the excessive use of force that typified Thaksin's time, and beginning negotiations with known separatist groups. However, violence has escalated. This likely backs the assertion that there are several groups involved in the violence, few of whom have been placated by the government's change of strategy.
Anonymous leaflets issued by militant groups often contain jihadist language. Many young militants received training and indoctrination from Islamic teachers, some of which took place within Islamic educational institutions. Many see the Southern Thai violence as a form of Islamist militancy and Islamic separitism, testifying to the strength of Malay Muslim beliefs and the determination of local people to resist the (Buddhist) Thai state on religious grounds.
The Thai authorities claim that the insurgency is not caused by the lack of political representation among the Muslim population. By the late 1990s, Muslims were holding unprecedentedly senior posts in Thai politics, for example with Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, a Malay Muslim from Yala, serving as Chairman of Parliament from 1996 to 2001 under the Democrats and later as Interior Minister during the first Thaksin government. Thaksin's first government (2001–2005) also saw 14 Muslim Members of Parliament (MPs) and several Muslim senators. Muslims dominated provincial legislative assemblies in the border provinces, and several southern municipalities had Muslim mayors. Muslims were able to voice their political grievances more openly and enjoy a much greater degree of religious freedom.
The Thaksin regime, however, began to dismantle the southern administration organisation replacing it with a notoriously corrupt police force which immediately began widespread crackdowns. Consultation with local community leaders was also abolished. Discontent over the abuses led to growing violence during 2004 and 2005. Muslim politicians and leaders remained silent out of fear of repression, thus eroding their political legitimacy and support. This cost them dearly. In the 2005 general election, all but one of the eleven incumbent Muslim MPs who stood for election were voted out of office.
Poverty and economic problems have been cited as a factor behind the insurgency. However, the performance of the deep South’s economy improved markedly in the past few decades. Between 1983 and 2003, the average per capita income of Pattani grew from 9,340 baht to 57,621 baht, while that of Yala and Narathiwat also increased from 14,987 baht and 10,340 baht to 52,737 baht and 38,553 baht, respectively. However, the border provinces did have the lowest average income among all the southern provinces. Also, the national average is well below the estimated average needed to be considered an acceptable minimum wage by international organisations for SE Asia. One could thus argue that the average per capita income in the southernmost provinces is only about 20-25% of what the Thai minimum wage would be.
Household income improved from 2002 to 2004 by 21.99%, 19.27%, and 21.28% for Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, respectively. For comparison, income growth for all of Thailand in the same period was just 9.4%.
The percentage of people living below the poverty line also fell, from 40%, 36%, and 33% in 2000 to 18%, 10%, and 23% in 2004 for Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala, respectively. By 2004, the 3 provinces had 310,000 people living below the poverty line, compared to 610,000 in 2000. However, 45% of all poor Southerners lived in the 3 border provinces.
Muslims in the border provinces generally have lower levels of educational attainment compared to their Buddhist neighbours. 69.80% of the Muslim population in the border provinces have only a primary school education, compared to 49.6% of Buddhists in the same provinces. Only 9.20% of Muslims have completed secondary education (including those who graduated from private Islamic schools), compared to 13.20% of Buddhists. Just 1.70% of the Muslim population have a bachelor’s degree, while 9.70% of Buddhists hold undergraduate degrees. Government schools are taught only in Thai and the secular educational system is being undermined by the destruction of schools and the murders of teachers by the insurgent outfits.
The lesser educated Muslims also have reduced employment opportunities compared to their Buddhist neighbours. Government officials comprised only 2.4% of all working Muslims in the provinces, compared with 19.2% of all working Buddhists. Jobs in the Thai public sector are difficult to obtain for those Muslims who never fully accepted the Thai language or the Thai education system. Insurgent attacks on economic targets are further reducing employment opportunities for both Muslims and Buddhists in the provinces.
Some locals in the area support some kind of independence from Thailand; others clearly do not. The national referendum to support the junta-backed constitution for Thailand was favored by a majority in all three southernmost provinces and passed overwhelmingly in the southern region of Thailand, with 87% of the 3.7 million voters who participated there approving it. Furthermore, while those in the insurgent groups support armed conflict, most Southern residents seem to want negotiation and compromise and the rule of law to return, along with an end to human rights abuses by both sides.
Leading insurgent groups
Currently the most active insurgent movements are the BRN-Coordinate, its alleged armed wing the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK), and the GMIP. PULO, the doyen of the Patani insurgent groups and formerly the most respected secessionist movement in the region, has been largely inactive in recent years.
The Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinasi (BRN-C) is currently the most important group, spearheading the insurgency in Southern Thailand. It was revived after 2001 and its leaders are mainly Salafi religious teachers that have rejected the Pan-Arab socialist ideology of the early BRN, engaging in political activism by recruiting followers in mosques and indoctrinating at Islamic schools. This group has the vision of becoming a mass-organisation, aiming towards having 400,000 members in its area of operation. The BRN-C has no constructive cultural or nationalistic goals, instead its immediate aim is to make Southern Thailand ungovernable. It has been largely successful at spreading and maintaining an atmosphere of terror and uncertainty through well-trained secret militant units that engage in assassinations and calculated destruction.
The Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK), allegedly one of the armed wings of the BRN-C, has been one of the most brutal and ruthless groups of the South Thailand insurgency in recent years. It is formed by young, mostly Salafi, militants who routinely flee to Malaysia after carrying out violent attacks, including bombings, arson and murders, in Yala, Pattani or Narathiwat Province. Although several RKK members have been arrested or killed by the Thai military in the past decade, it is very difficult for those involved in counter-insurgency to penetrate the structure of the group owing to its secrecy and great mobility.
Like the BRN-C, the Gerakan Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP) is a group that experienced a revival after 2001 and has currently more hard-line Islamic political goals, to the detriment of its former nationalist cause. Its members are now believed to have sympathies with Al Qaeda and with the establishment of the transnational Islamic Caliphate.
The Barisan Bersatu Mujahidin Patani (BBMP) was created in 1985 as a radical breakaway of the National Front for the Liberation of Pattani (BNPP), distinguishing from the latter by its express Islamist ideology.
The Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) is a movement that was founded on the nationalist and secular values of Patani nation-building. Its priority was freeing Pattani from Thai rule by all means, including armed struggle.
However, since 2001 the civil society in the three southern Thai provinces has experienced a widespread imposition of legalistic Salafi norms and the reality on the ground is today very different from what it was in former Southern Thailand. Salafism has heavily eroded Patani cultural identity and current insurgent groups have extreme religious goals, such as an Islamic Caliphate, to the detriment of Patani nationalism. Although some of the present-day insurgents are very likely former PULO members, it is still unclear whether they fight for PULO's cause and it is likely that many may have become part of the more active and religious organisations that have overtaken PULO. At any rate, in recent years PULO's leadership has largely lost control over the insurgents and has a very limited overall degree of influence over the insurgency in Southern Thailand.
On 26 July 2009 Abu Yasir Fikri, President of PULO, and the "Emir" of the Group of Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP), Me Kuteh, agreed to join forces. Abu Yasir Fikri was allowed to speak on behalf of the GMIP on all political issues. The agreement included a section in which they agreed to form a unified military force, the Patani Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA would be commanded by the First Deputy Military Commander of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO).
On 18 April 2009, PULO outlined a solution to conflict at the OICs Twelfth Meeting of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts to consider the Conditions of Muslim Communities and Minorities in Jeddah.
In the last decade of the unrest in South Thailand, the black Al-raya flag has largely replaced the colourful secessionist flags formerly used by the different groups involved in the insurgency against the Thai government.
Original flag of the PULO, still used today by original PULO faction headed by Abu Yasir fikri
High profile incidents
Krue Se Mosque Incident
On 28 April 2004, more than 100 militants carried out terrorist attacks against 10 police outposts across Pattani, Yala and Songkhla provinces in southern Thailand. 32 gunmen retreated to the 425-year-old Krue Se Mosque, regarded by Muslims as the holiest mosque in Pattani.
General Pallop Pinmanee, commander of the Southern Peace Enhancement Center and Deputy Director of the Internal Security Operations Command, was the senior Army officer on the scene. After a tense seven-hour stand-off, Pallop ordered an all out assault on the mosque. All of the gunmen were killed. He later insisted, "I had no choice. I was afraid that as time passed the crowd would be sympathetic to the insurgents, to the point of trying to rescue them."
It was later revealed that Pallop's order to storm the mosque contravened a direct order by Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to seek a peaceful resolution to the stand-off no matter how long it took. Pallop was immediately ordered out of the area, and later tendered his resignation as commander of the Southern Peace Enhancement Center. The forward command of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), which Pallop headed, was also dissolved. A government investigative commission found that the security forces had over-reacted. The Asian Centre for Human Rights questioned the independence and impartiality of the investigative commission. On 3 May 2004 during a Senate hearing, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan noted that most of those killed at Krue Se Mosque had been shot in the head and there were signs that ropes had been tied around their wrists, suggesting they had been executed after being captured.
The incident resulted in a personal conflict between Pallop and Defense Minister Chavalit, who was also director of the ISOC. Pallop later demanded that the Defense Minister cease any involvement in the management of the southern insurgency.
Tak Bai incident
In October 2004 the town of Tak Bai in Narathiwat province saw the most publicised incident of the insurgency. Six local men were arrested for having supplied weapons to insurgents. A demonstration was organised to demand their release and the police called in army reinforcements. The army used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd, and shooting started in which seven men were killed.
Hundreds of local people, mostly young men, were arrested. They were made to take off their shirts and lie on the ground. Their hands were tied behind their backs. Later that afternoon, they were thrown by soldiers into trucks to be taken to the Ingkayutthaboriharn army camp in the nearby province of Pattani. The prisoners were stacked five or six deep in the trucks, and by the time the trucks reached their destination five hours later, in the heat of the day, 78 men had died of suffocation.
This incident sparked widespread protests across the south, and indeed across Thailand, since even non-Muslim Thais were appalled at the army's behaviour. Thaksin, however, gave the army his full support. Those responsible for the ill-treatment and death of the detainees received the most minor of non-custodial punishments. Thaksin's initial response was to defend the army's actions, saying that the 78 men died "because they were already weak from fasting during the month of Ramadan."
Charges were filed against 58 suspects accused of participating in the demonstration. The trials went on at a slow pace, and as of October 2006, the court had finished questioning of only two of the 1,500 witnesses in the case. Police were also unable to find 32 Tak Bai protesters who were still at large after fleeing arrest.
On 2 November 2006, then Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont gave a formal apology for the incident. The next day, the insurgents responded by increasing the number of violent acts by fivefold in comparison to the average the preceding month.
Reconciliation and negotiation
Attempts to negotiate with insurgents were hampered by the anonymity of the insurgency's leaders.
In May 2004, Wan Kadir Che Man, exiled leader of Bersatu and for years one of the key symbolic figures in the guerrilla movement, stated that he would be willing to negotiate with the Government to end the southern violence. He also hinted that Bersatu would be willing to soften its previous demands for an independent state.
The government initially welcomed the request to negotiate. However, the government response was severely criticised as being "knee-jerk" and "just looking to score cheap political points." But when it became apparent that, despite his softened demand for limited autonomy, Wan Kadir Che Man had no influence over the violence, the negotiations were cancelled. The government then began a policy of not attempting to officially negotiate with the insurgents.
After being appointed Army Commander in 2005, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin expressed confidence that he could resolve the insurgency. He claimed that he would take a "new and effective" approach to a crisis and that "The Army is informed [of who the insurgents are] and will carry out their duties."
On 1 September 2006, a day after 22 commercial banks were simultaneously bombed in Yala province, Sonthi announced that he would break with the government no-negotiation policy. However, he noted that "We still don't know who is the real head of the militants we are fighting with." In a press conference the next day, he attacked the government for criticising him for trying to negotiate with the anonymous insurgents, and demanded that the government "Free the military and let it do the job." His confrontation with the government made his call for negotiation extremely popular with the media. Afterwards, insurgents bombed 6 department stores in Hat Yai city, which until then had been free of insurgent activities. As always, the identity of the insurgents was not revealed. Sonthi was granted an extraordinary increase in executive powers to combat unrest in the far South. By 19 September 2006 (after Sonthi overthrew the Thai government), the Army admitted that it was still unsure who to negotiate with.
National Reconciliation Commission
On March 2005, respected former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun was appointed as chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission, tasked with overseeing that peace is brought back to the South. A fierce critic of the Thaksin-government, Anand frequently criticised the handling of the southern unrest, and in particular the State of Emergency Decree. He has been quoted to have said, "The authorities have worked inefficiently. They have arrested innocent people instead of the real culprits, leading to mistrust among locals. So, giving them broader power may lead to increased violence and eventually a real crisis." Unfortunately, the situation deteriorated from 2005 to 2006, with escalating violence, especially among teachers and civilians. Despite much criticism of the Thaksin-government's policies, Anand refused to submit the NRC's final report, choosing instead to wait for the results of the 2006 legislative election.
Anand finally submitted the NRC's recommendations on 5 June 2006. Among them were
- Introducing Islamic law (Sharia)
- Making ethnic Pattani-Malay (Yawi) as a working language in the region
- Establishing an unarmed peacekeeping force
- Establishing a Peaceful Strategic Administrative Centre for Southern Border Provinces
The Thaksin government vowed to implement the recommendations. However, the recommendations were vigorously opposed by Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Privy Council, who stated "We cannot accept that [proposal] as we are Thai. The country is Thai and the language is Thai... We have to be proud to be Thai and have the Thai language as the sole national language".
Note: Table is not comprehensive
By end-2012 the conflict since 2004 had resulted in some 3,380 deaths, including 2,316 civilians, 372 troops, 278 police, 250 suspected insurgents, 157 education officials and seven Buddhist monks.
According to one report in the Patani Post in late May 2014, about 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict during the last decade.
Human Rights Issues
Human Rights Watch (HRW) cites abuses on both sides. Numerous times the insurgents have murdered Buddhist monks collecting alms, and Buddhist villagers have been killed going about routine work such as rubber tapping, even though Buddhists have lived in the region for centuries. School teachers, headmasters, and students have been killed and schools torched presumably because schools represent a symbol of the Thai Government. Civil servants, regardless of religion, have been targeted for assassination. According to the Thai Journalists Association, during the year 2008 alone there were over 500 attacks. resulting in more than 300 deaths in the four provinces where the insurgents operate.
Meanwhile, local Muslims have been beaten, killed, or simply "disappeared" during police questioning and custody. Human Rights Watch has documented at least 20 such disappearances. Soldiers and police have sometimes been indiscriminate when pursuing suspected insurgents, resulting in civilian collateral damage.
Of the 2,463 people killed in attacks from 2004 to 2007, 2,196 (89%) were civilians. Buddhist Thais and ethnic Malay Muslims were killed in bomb attacks, shootings, assassinations, ambushes, and machete hackings. At least 29 victims have been beheaded and mutilated.
"There have been hundreds of militant attacks on teachers, schools, public health workers, hospital staff, and community health centers. For the first time in the region's history of separatist insurgencies, Buddhist monks and novices are now among those killed and injured by separatist militants," HRW said in a 2007 report.
"Village-based militants called Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani (Patani Freedom Fighters) in the loose network of BRN-Coordinate (National Revolution Front-Coordinate) have now emerged as the backbone of the new generation of separatist militants.
"Increasingly, they claim that the southern border provinces are not the land of Buddhist Thais, but a religious 'conflict zone' which must be divided between ethnic Malay Muslims and 'infidels'. The separatists seek to forcibly liberate Patani Darulsalam (Islamic Land of Patani), from what they call a Buddhist Thai occupation," HRW continued.
The 2010 World Report from Human Rights Watch highlighted escalating human rights abuses throughout Thailand, with the South reflecting overall policies against individual human rights. Sharply increased powers for police and the military were accompanied by a perceived lack of accountability.
Government harassment of suspected insurgents
The Asian Human Rights Commission accused the military of beating and torturing suspected insurgents by burning their genitals with cigarettes, smashing beer bottles over their knees, and chaining them to dogs. Such abuses were alleged to have occurred in October 2006, after the military seized power.
In December 2006, a group of 20 Muslims, 9 men and 11 women aged between 2 and 55, sought political asylum in Malaysia. They claimed that the post-coup regime was more aggressive against civilians and that they were continuously harassed by the Army. The Army admitted that the group sought refuge in Malaysia out of fear for their lives - but that the threat was from forces.
A group of Muslims from Narathiwat that fled to Malaysia in March 2007 claimed that they were escaping intimidation and brutality by the military. The group complained that they have been beaten and that their sons have been missing or detained since 2005. It also claimed that some youths had died after they were poisoned during detention.
In late January 2012, an unknown number of insurgents ambushed a thahan pran base before retreating. The rangers chased the insurgents and were fired upon from a pick up truck. The rangers fired back in self-defence resulting in four dead civilians in the truck with others wounded. The rangers found AK-47 assault rifles but also claimed that the four dead civilians were not affiliated with insurgents in any way. Soldiers from the 4th army regiment are investigating.This killing has angered many Thai Muslims as the four dead persons are mosque leaders (an imam, a moulana,a khatib, and a bilai).
In early February, the ministry of interior proposed a 7.5 million baht to all victims of the insurgency including those from the Tak Bai Massacre and the Kru Se Mosque Incident.
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