On the 14th of November a roadside IED exploded in the Southern Narathawit province of Thailand destroying a vehicle carrying Thai soldiers to a wedding in a nearby village. This non-fatal attack is thought to be part of the South-Thailand Insurgency. One of the first since the COVID outbreak earlier in the year.
The South-Thailand Insurgency is a 70-year battle for independence fought by the, primarily Muslim, Malay Patani region of Thailand. This insurgency is seeking independence from Thailand, for the Patani people, and poses an ongoing threat in the region. Talks between the Thai government and the main belligerent BRN stalled in March 2020 and have not fully resumed since. Given the instability elsewhere in Thailand at the moment it is highly unlikely the Thai government will accept the BRN’s demands for succession, or a decentralization of power, but they are proposing some limited autonomy.
The quest for self-determinism began after the Second World War when the Thai government began a policy of Thaification in the area which had, until 1909, been part of British Malaysia. In the first 30 years of Thai rule the ethnically Malay Muslim area was largely left to rule itself. But in 1948 the Buddhist Thai government began to assimilate the Patani people into Thai culture. At this point the traditionally neglected, and poor, region resisted Thai efforts to override their culture. Instead of creating a more harmonious relationship, the policies alienated them further. This policy of Thaification created an armed resistance movement in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with the PLO modeled Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) being the most famous. However, by the 1990s the Thai government changed focus and instead made an effort to improve the economic situation in the region instead. As the economic reforms improved, support for the insurgency gradually declined.
Despite the improving conditions in the early 2000s a series of harsh policies from then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra reignited the insurgency and helped to create the situation we have today. Over the past 20 years over 7,000 people have been killed as a result of the violence in South Thailand.
The most powerful group involved today is the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). The BRN’s primary goal is a self-governed state but it is believed they would accept some level of decentralised power. The Thai government had begun negotiations with MARA Patani, another insurgency group, in 2014 but the BRN refused to join talks until certain conditions were met. In January 2020 BRN said these conditions were met, and the Thai government entered into peace talks and set out a framework for future negotiations. Talks continued until March, but after an attack on a government center in Yala on the 17th of March, and the outbreak of COVID 19, talks stalled. Lines of communication remain open however and the government are still looking to return to the negotiation table as the pandemic calms down.
The government are proposing a “special administration zone” for the provinces near the southern border. But these zones will still be subject to Thai law and the Thai constitution. It remains to be seen if the BRN will accept this solution, but given the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Bangkok, and the COVID 19 crisis, it is unlikely the authoritarian government will want to look like they are ceding too much control. The increased public scrutiny on Thailand due to the protests in the capital, will also create extra pressure for the Thai government and may present the BRN with a greater public stage on which to conduct attacks.
The attack on November 14th was one of the first since the COVID 19 outbreak began earlier in the year. Thai military sources cite tightened border controls between Malaysia and Thailand as the main reason for a reduction in attacks. As COVID 19 is currently under control in Thailand, but not in Malaysia, it is highly unlikely that border restrictions will be removed soon. So, it is unclear if the November attack signals a return to violence or if it is an isolated incident. If an increase in attacks does happen it is likely to be on a more limited scale than previously until more freedom of movement is allowed between the two countries.
Currently there appears to be motivation from both sides to resume peace process talks but if there is an increase in violence it will be interesting to see the role that the COVID 19 induced delays have played, and how the Thai government responds while protests are ongoing in the capital.
A bomb blast has torn through the commercial centre of Thailand’s capital Bangkok, killing at least 21 people and wounding 120 more. Police have confirmed that the dead include 10 Thais, one Chinese national and one Filipino. The nationalities of the others who died in the explosion are still being determined.
The explosive device, believed to be a 3 kilogram pipe bomb, went off at about 19:00 local time (12:00 GMT) on Monday near the Erawan Hindu shrine, a major tourist attraction just off the Ratchaprasong intersection. Police officials have confirmed that a second, similar device was found at the scene of the explosion and has been removed by bomb disposal experts. Nearby offices were evacuated and the intersection was cleared while the operation was in progress, as police officers feared that the second device might explode at any moment. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Described by Prayuth Chan-ocha as “the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand” , the Thai Prime Minister has accused the attackers of targeting innocent lives and wanting to destroy the country’s economy and tourism. While it is not yet clear who was behind the attack and what their motives were, Prayuth has said that authorities are searching for a individual who was captured CCTV near the scene of the bombing.
Speculation has been rife as the the attacker’s allegiances, with some suggesting Malay Muslim insurgents from the country’s south who have been fighting Thai rule for over a decade and others accusing the Red Shirt movement, an anti-government group from the North East. A less plausible alternative is that Chinese Uighurs, the Muslim minority group from Xinjiang region in western China, targeted the site, which is known to be popular with Chinese tourists. If this were the case, and it seems unlikely that it is, it could conceivably be in retaliation for the deportation of 100 Uighurs from Thailand to China last month.