Thailand’s Forgotten Conflict
Image Credit: US Air Force

Thailand’s Forgotten Conflict


As Thailand lurches from one political crisis to the next—whether over its Cambodian border, or closer to the capital where the Red and Yellow Shirts are going toe-to-toe—the separatist rebellion in the country’s south has largely escaped international attention. Its seventh anniversary passed quietly, with little mention.

But the lack of a media spotlight doesn’t mean the situation has calmed down. On Tuesday, a villager was shot dead in Pattani, with his death being blamed on insurgents. The incident followed Monday’s motorbike bomb, which killed one person and injured 16 in Yala; another 17 were hurt by a car bomb in Pattani on Sunday. Back in Yala, on February 13, 18 people were wounded by a car bomb. On February 3, five Buddhist villagers were gunned down outside a Pattani teashop.

And the fact is, February was just another month in southern Thailand.

For most of the past seven years, the authorities have preferred to dismiss the attacks as random acts of violence carried out by either bandits or a handful of disgruntled Islamic militants. But such attempts at playing down the carnage rankled Western governments. What they saw instead was another battleground in the global war on terrorism and Islamic militancy, with the conflict in southern Thailand seen as a persistent threat to regional security.

But whatever the view from abroad, it was five years before the Thai police admitted they had a separatist movement on their hands—a well-structured organization consisting of five related groups operating across four provinces—Songkhla, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat—where six million Muslims live. Still, actually identifying the leaders proved tricky, even though the National Revolutionary Front-Coordinate (BRN-C) can be traced back to the 1960s, and has held the highest profile among southern separatist movements.

Yet this is about more than just some obscure provincial groupings—there has also been evidence of links with al-Qaeda and regional terrorist outfits like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) (although this group is currently in decline). The evidence of this can be traced through a series of interviews believed to have been granted by the self-described leader of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia, ‘Abu Ubaidah’ who had fits of talkativeness up until last year, but who has since gone quiet.

‘What’s happening in Pattani isn’t an internal conflict, some (fighters) come from the neighbouring country, some come from far away, many thousands of miles,’ he has said, while urging Muslims in Malaysia and Indonesia to join his jihad.

July 26, 2012 at 11:27

I'm very pleased to read this article. I'm doing my assignment regarding the conflict that happening in Thailand, it helps me a lot. Correct me if I'm wrong. This is what happening in Thailand priorly. Political crisis, insurgency, social disparity between southern and northern provinces and religion-based crisis. Initially, all this conflicts are caused by the crisis that happening in Thailand's political system itself. Am i right?

March 3, 2011 at 11:39

Anyone in Thailand can look at the faces of the Southern Thai and know
that they are Malay. Just as you can see a Northern Thai look Issan or Lao
or Burmese mixed. As an Eastern Thai looking like Cambodian

March 3, 2011 at 11:37

Sorry, this will never be forgotten.
First the red and yellow things is here to stay. That is a given.

Then you would have to do some honest research to see that the Southern
Thailand history, of the Malay annexation.

Just some brief notes: From one website with credit due the website
at the bottom of posting

While when exactly Pattani was Islamized is in debate, it was certainly one of the earliest Malay kingdoms to adopt the Middle Eastern religion around mid-13th Century. The kingdom adopted the name ‘Patani’ under the rule of Sultan Ismail Shah. According to local folklore, he was finding a spot for the kingdom’s new capital, and when he arrived to the place he liked best, he shouted ‘Pantai Ini!’ which means in Malay, ‘This Beach!’ According to most accounts, this capital is thought to be today’s modern Kru Se (Kampung Grisek).

It is widely believe that Pattani is one of the oldest kingdoms on the Malay peninsular. Pattani was known to the Western world, especially in 1516 when Portuguese explorer Godinho de Eredia landed on its port. The fall of Malacca five years before that increased Pattani’s popularity with Indian-Muslim traders; competing viciously with northern Sumatra kingdom of Aceh.

During the massive Burmese attack from the north against the ancient Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, Pattani’s Sultan Muzaffar Shah took this advantage and launched an attack on Ayutthaya in 1563. He however mysteriously died during battle.

Pattani’s golden age was during the reign of its four successive queens from 1584, known as Raja Hijau (The Green Queen), Raja Biru (The Blue Queen), Raja Ungu (The Purple Queen) and Raja Kuning (The Yellow Queen), where the kingdom’s economic and military strength was greatly increased and managed to fight off at least four Siamese invasions with the help of the eastern Malay kingdom of Pahang and the southern Malay kingdom of Johore.

Thai Annexation of Pattani
During the reign of Pattani’s last Queens in the 17th Century, the kingdom fell into disarray and went into gradual decline. A Siamese leader, Phraya Taksin, drove off the Burmese invaders out of Siam in a war of independence. His successor, Rama I, established the Chakri Dynasty, which still rules Thailand till today. The reunited and stronger Siamese army was to face another Burmese raid and demanded troops from from a reluctant Pattani.

Prince Surasi, Rama I’s prince, invaded Pattani and its Sultan Muhammad was killed in battle and his capital razed to the ground. According to local sources, 4,000 Malay men was taken to Bangkok in chains and made into slaves digging Bangkok’s system of khlongs (canals) To further humiliate the Pattanese, the symbol of Pattani’s military strength ‘ the Seri Patani and Seri Negara cannons, was brought to Bangkok and it is today displayed in front of the Ministry of Defense.

On 1791 and 1808, there were several unsuccessful rebellions within Pattani against their Thai conquerors. Following which, Pattani was divided into 7 largely autonomous states ‘ Pattani, Nongchik, Saiburi (Teluban), Yala (Jalur), Yaring (Jambu), Ra-ngae (Legeh) and Reman. All these was ruled by the Raja Ligor. For several months, there was a period of independence when along with Kedah Malays, Pattanese drove the Thais out. This however was short-lived.

In 1902, Pattani was formally annexed by Siam, followed a 1909 Bangkok Treaty with the British recognizing it. All seven provinces were united into a monthon and incorporated into the kingdom. Later on the central government in Bangkok renamed certain localities with Thai-sounding names, as well as merging together some of the provinces. When the monthon was dissolved in 1933 three provinces remained – Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

Greater Pattani State
During World War II, Thailand was an ally with Japan and allowed its southern territory to invade British dependencies and colonies on the Malay peninsular. Tun Mahmud Mahyuddin, a Pattani leader, allied himself with the British in promises that after the war should they win, Pattani would be granted independence.

The major source of support came from the Malay people frustrated with the Rathaniyom policy during the reign of Phibul Songkhram where Malays were subjected to assimilation and forced to abandon large amounts of their indigenous culture.

The Malay leader collaborated with the British in launching guerrilla attacks against the Japanese. In 1945, a petition of Malay leaders lead by Tengku Abdul Jalal demanded from the British independence of the 4 southern provinces from Thailand. After the war, there was a period where the Greater Pattani State (Negeri Patani Raya) flag rose in Pattani. However soon enough, the British broke its war promises; reestablished Thai presence in Pattani and the hopes of an independent Pattani was shattered.

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February 26, 2011 at 00:17

It’s largely ignored because no one writes about it, so I am pleased to see this article. However I would strongly caution readers against assuming that there really is such a strong global Islamist element to the insurgency.
Is there a problem in southern Thailand? Of course. However history, geography, ethnicity and misrule have all played a large role in creating the current situation and we shouldn’t simply give in to misplaced fears of Islam. That would be just as foolish as previous fears of international Communism.

Phraya Pipit Phakdi
February 25, 2011 at 15:28

This is NOT a religious conflict.

The Patani Malays are fighting to emancipate their homeland from a century of Thai colonization.

Go here to understand the root causes of this conflict.

February 25, 2011 at 12:07

Dear Mr. Hunt,

I agree that the southern Thai conflict is under-reported and that it warrants more serious attentions, but I fear that the assessment in this article may be a bit misleading.
To posit the conflict is part of a global jihad is to simplify its complexity and ignore the fact that it is a decades long regional issue that has been poorly handled by the Thai government.
Issues of participation in government, representation and autonomy within the Thai state are the fundamental concerns of the Malay Muslim majority in the Deep South. These issues have never been adequately addressed by the Thai government, thereby exacerbating the situation.
An excellent authoritative account of the troubled South is provided by Duncan McCargo in “Tearing the Land Apart”.

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