The ongoing problems in the deep south of Thailand have escalated in recent weeks. On Monday, gunmen attacked a mosque in Narathiwat province during evening prayers. Ten Thai Muslims died at the scene and it’s been reported locally that two more have since died from their injuries. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The Thai army has dismissed allegations by some local people that security forces were involved in the shootings. The Thai army has been battling a campaign of violence being waged by Islamic militants in the area which borders Malaysia.
Background to the Southern Provinces
The area forming the deep south of Thailand and northern Malaysia was once an independent kingdom or sultanate known as Pattani. Historians don’t agree on the exact date that the kingdom was founded, but it is widely accepted that Pattani became an Islamic kingdom in 1457. Interspersed with periods of independence, there were times when Pattani also came under the control of Siam. During the times Pattani was under Siamese control, uprisings and rebellions were common. In 1786 Siam conquered Pattani for the last time and in 1902 the region (the modern-day Thai provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani) was officially annexed to Siam (the old name for Thailand).
What do the Insurgents Want?
The insurgents themselves are made up of a number of different groups, but it’s generally accepted that a joint aim of the militants is to re-establish the southern Thai provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani into an independent Islamic state. Many Muslim people in the area don’t consider themselves to be Thai and speak a dialect of Malay. They believe that they are treated as second-class citizens by the Thai authorities and that their culture and traditions haven’t been respected by successive Thai governments.
Flashpoints of Violence
The separatist campaign in the deep south of Thailand has been going on in one form or another since the region was annexed in 1902. In recent years there have been a number of flashpoints which has seen the violence increase. Former Thai leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, has been blamed by some analysts for his strong-arm tactics which alienated many Muslims in the area.
Krue Se Mosque
On April 28, 2004, Islamic militants launched a number of pre-dawn attacks against government targets and security checkpoints in the southern Thai provinces. The insurgents then barricaded themselves into Krue Se Mosque in Pattani province. Following a nine-hour siege, the Thai army shot dead all 32 of the militants inside the mosque. In other incidents on the same day, another 70 people were killed. The shootings at the mosque outraged many local Muslims and the Thai army was later criticized by human rights groups for using excessive force.
Militants Storm Army Depot
In June 2004, Muslim militants stormed an army depot in Narathiwat killing Thai soldiers and seizing a large weapons cache which helped the insurgents to continue their murderous campaign.
Tak Bai Incident
In October 2004 a protest in Narathiwat province turned violent and 7 protesters were killed in clashes with security officials. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and put on trucks with their hands tied so that they could be taken to an army camp. They were piled on top of each other and during the journey 78 people died of suffocation. Prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was then vilified by Thai Muslims for his comments which suggested that the deaths of the men were a result of them being physically weakened by fasting during Ramadan.
The Current Situation
Since 2004, more than 3,500 people have been killed in the violence. The extremists have targeted people they deem to be co-operating with the Bangkok authorities. Bombings, drive-by-shootings and arson attacks have been an almost daily occurrence in some parts of the deep south in recent years. This has meant that teachers, Buddhist monks and ordinary farmers have all been killed along with soldiers and police. In some cases, the victims have been burned alive or beheaded. The violence has mainly been confined to the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, but there have also been incidents in Songkhla province and the city of Hat Yai.
Prospects for Peace
Since the provinces were annexed in 1902, there has always been some level of resistance from Muslims in the area who don’t want to be part of Thailand. Sadly, there is no foreseeable end to the violence in Thailand’s deep south. Successive Thai governments have failed to provide an answer and the insurgents show no signs of wanting a peaceful solution.