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Counterinsurgency in the Deep South of Thailand: A Continuing Failure?

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Counterinsurgency in the Deep South of Thailand: A Continuing Failure?

Chayathip Weerakajorn

Introduction

All actions have consequences, and all circumstances come after certain root causes; so does the ongoing insurgency in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, or what also known as the Deep South. Similar to most cases of insurgencies in Southeast Asia, the political-military struggle in the Land of Smile stemmed from the long-term oppression that the ethnic minority Malay-Muslims living in the then Kingdom of Patani have received from the Thai government since the country was still named Siam. After the territorial conquest of Patani by King Rama I of the Chakri Dynasty in 1789[1], a series of violence uprisings followed in the early 1900s, but were quelled by the state army.[2] However, the resistance movements motivated by the government’s identity assimilation policy resurfaced again through the mid-1940s to the present, seeking different goals vary from local autonomy to the reconstruction of a sovereign state Patani. So far, the Thai government has been managing the conflict in the Deep South mostly through the use of violence to suppress the militants; on the other hand, the resort to peace through negotiations is apparently implemented relatively less than the use of force. Given that violence has reemerged in 2004 and has prolonged until today without any signs of reconciliation, it can implied that Thailand has not been doing well in counterinsurgency. The Thai ways of counterinsurgency are arguably flawed in several aspects, including the security and civil pillars of counterinsurgency. Moreover, the unstable domestic politics continues to distract the country leaders from conflicts in the south, as they are forced to focus on securing political power in Bangkok instead.

This paper aims to study the Thai government’s performance in counterinsurgency in the Deep South, concentrating on the efforts from 2004 to the present. Since the Malay-Muslims’ identity in the South in central to the cause of the conflict, the paper will open with a brief background of the political grievances and the main separatist groups operating in the areas of conflict. Then, the paper will discuss Thailand’s counterinsurgency efforts in regards to both security and civil COIN pillars that help promote or impede the government’s conflict resolution.

Background of Conflict in the Deep South Thailand

First of all, the areas of conflict, the regional demographic, and the local grievances need to be addressed. This section demonstrates important insights in regards to the scenic backdrop to the crisis: the three Southern Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat.

Areas of Conflict and Geography

Thailand is comprised of largely four provinces: The North, the Northern East, the Central Thai, and the South. Figure 1) shows that the southern Thailand in connected to Malaysia. The Deep South or the three provinces shares a border with Malaysia, which explains the religious identity of the majority Muslims in the South. Insurgents fundamentally operate within the three provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat, and occasionally attack on the southern areas of Songkhla province.[3] Geography in the Deep South is characterized by mountains and dense rain forests.[4] Consequently, Thai security forces operating in the area that has distinct cultural aspect are required to have a certain degree of geographical and cultural knowledge of the Deep South. Paramilitaries are thus recruited by the Thai military with an expectation that they would possess language skills, intelligence network, and knowledge of the mountainous and forested areas.[5] Nonetheless, only approximately 40 percent of the recruits are Malay-Muslims, while the rests are Thai-Buddhists.[6] Connection with Malaysia border apparently serves as the insurgents’ alternatives to seek cross-border sanctuary; likewise, terrains full of forests provide good hiding spots for insurgents who are local-based and are far more familiar with the territory than the security forces who are deployed from other regions.

1

Figure 1: Map of the Deep South Thailand[7]

Demographic

Since the current population of the Deep South is mostly descendants from the Patani Kingdom, the majority in the three provinces identify themselves as Muslims and is called the Malay-Muslims; on the other hand, the minority is the Thai-Buddhists. According to the 2010 survey of population, the Malay-Muslims make up an approximate 94 percent of the population in the three provinces: 90 percent in Yala, 93 percent in Pattani, and 96 percent in Narathiwat, meaning that only 6 percent of the population is Thai-Buddhists.[8] Also, the majority of Muslim population is Sunni Muslims. Although the existing Sunnis in the Deep South could encourage a prospective jihadist expansion in the region, there has yet been concrete evidence that links the separatists in Thailand with international radicalized terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), or ISIS.[9] In other words, the conflict remains a domestic contestation between the Thai government and the Malay-Muslim separatists.

In terms of language, there are 2 languages used in the conflict areas: Pattani-Malay and Thai (Central-Thai dialect and Southern-Thai dialect). The 2010 demographic survey suggests that approximately 83 percent of the Deep South’s population speaks Pattani-Malay as a mother-tongue language, while 13 percent speaks Central-Thai dialect, and 4 percent speaks Southern-Thai dialect.[10] Different mother-tongue languages, however, do not obstruct the locals from learning how to read and write Thai, as up to 80 percent of Malay-Muslims and up to 96 percent of Thai-Buddhists are able to read standard Thai.[11] Apparently, factors that correlate with the local’s literacy are age and education. A hundred percent of the Deep South’s population in their age of 18 to 19 years old who goes to the government schools in which standard Thai is taught are reportedly able to read standard Thai; in contrast, only 37 percent of those under 60 years old possess such literacy.[12] While these statistics could be perceived as the government’s successful efforts in imposing Thai identity to the population in the southernmost provinces through education, they could be translated as further marginalization of the Malay-Muslims’ identity, particularly language.

Local Grievances

Although not manifest in an extreme manner, religious differences and prejudice have been stigmatizing the Thai’s perception towards Malay-Muslims, as they associate most Malay-Muslims in the Deep South with the separatists. An interview of a Thai-Buddhist monk named Phra Visuddho portrays how Muslims are viewed in some Thais’ eyes. Phra Visuddho told the reporter of the South China Morning Post that for him, Muslims are identified with violence perpetrators in the Deep South.[13] Furthermore, he offered his opinion that peace in the South would be less likely restored unless Buddhism was instituted as Thailand’s official religion; and according to the article, this demand has been reiterated by other Thais for at least 10 years, and has even been pushed twice in the constitution.[14] Phra Visuddho, as well as the government, believes that violence would be dissolved if the Muslims accepted coexistence and tolerance.[15]

So what does this tell us? The conflict reemerged and regained its magnitude in 2004, while Phra Visuddho’s interview was published in 2018. It has been 14 years and still counting, but the Thai government appears to fail to create an understanding among the majority Thai-Buddhist that the root causes of the struggle: the identity marginalization of the Malay-Muslims. The interview reflects the Thais’ perception of the Deep South’s violence: the Muslims’ inability to adjust to and to coexist with “Thainess”. And sadly, it reflects the Thais’ resentment towards the Muslim community as a whole. Thai people demand Malay-Muslims’ acceptance of Thainess, but deny their Islamic identity.

Unlike what some might think, grievances in the Deep South unfortunate have been rooted far beyond the Muslims’ mild bitterness; in fact, it is the suppression of Muslims’ identity and culture. Ever since the Kingdom of Patani was conquered, Thailand has been imposing assimilation policy on the three provinces in order to create uniformity in terms of language and social behavior; and inevitably, these processes required the elimination of Islamic customs and of shari’a laws for a successful modernization and assimilation.[16] Malay-Muslims have regarded these efforts as direct threats to their identity, because their religion ties their identity to religious practices and laws in an inseparable manner.[17] Additionally, the Malay-Muslim community lacks of political freedom and adequate representations in the Bangkok-centralized government.[18] This results as an unfair distribution of resources and benefits[19], as Malay-Muslims are reserved with relatively less space in the government to express and to advocate for their community’s needs than Thai-Buddhists do.[20]

An economic survey has found that around 15 percent of local Malay-Muslims are unemployed, and over 1/3 of the population is not properly educated because of language barriers, as most public schools in the Deep South deliver lessons in standard Thai due to the assimilation policy.[21] The Thai government’s repetitive failures to realize the fundamental needs of the Malay-Muslims have exacerbated the locals’ grievances and dissatisfactions; in turn, these grievances fuel the separatists’ rages towards the government. Thus, they decide to pursue an independent Islamic state where their needs and ethno-religious identity will presumably be secured from any threats and injustice.[22]

Insurgency Entities in the Deep South

On a general basis, violent attacks in the three provinces are not publicly claimed by any insurgent groups as their misconducts. However, previous studies and investigations have offered a considerably amount of information to document at least six active insurgent groups operating in the Deep South: BRN, BRN-C, Bersatu, GMIP, PULO, and New PULO.[23] Due to the limited time and space, this section will be focusing on BRN and BRN-C, as they are marked as the largest and the most important players in the conflict area.

Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN)

This largest armed separatist group in the Deep South was established in 1963 by Ustaz Haji Abdul Karim Hassan as an opposition to the education-reform program instituted by the Thai government.[24] The formal structure of BRN consists of the political and military wings that are headed by a Party Leadership Council.[25] BRN is a politically oriented organization that pursues an establishment of an independent Islamic state and a promotion of Malay nationalism, opposing to any form of colonialism and capitalism.[26] The group’s principal strategy is to gain population and territorial control by gathering mass popular support from local Malay-Muslims.[27] BRN’s operations are mostly centralized around the use of violence in the form of traditional guerilla attacks; however, the Thai government is unable to identify BRN as the perpetrators of the attacks in the Deep South mainly because this group never publicly claims responsibility for any attacks.[28] Furthermore, it is difficult for the security forces or the authorities to detect BRN members because, allegedly, they do not show themselves.[29] More than just disguising as local villagers, BRN members assume multiple roles in the Deep South. On one hand, they are normal villagers practicing same civil activities as the non-combatants; on the other hand, when they are not working in rubber plantation or raising livestock, they would be preparing and executing armed attacks against their key targets.[30]

BRN-Coordinate (BRN-C)

In the 1980s, BRN was fractionalized and gave birth to the now most important separatists group in the region: the BRN-C.[31] While BRN’s focus is to maximize terror to provoke and to discredit the Thai security forces, BRN-C’s operations are more strategic with an aim to increase and to strengthen its members.[32] Youths in the Deep South become BRN-C’s main targets of recruitment through Islamic educational system. BRN-C is a student-based movement originally comprised of recent graduates from Middle Eastern and South Asian religious schools.[33] High-ranking members of BRN-C who own some of the Pondoh and private Islamic schools would either coerce or convince students to participate in the movement with the help of school teachers and preachers,[34] using the context of historical invasion to rationalize the separatists’ causes.[35] Not all participants are with consent: sometimes a student could be pressured to join simply because the whole class has participated.[36] New members are required to take a 15-day military training to learn about combat tactics of traditional guerilla warfare, which are taught by instructors who use brutal teaching methods to create discipline and obedience.[37] In 2005, it was estimated that the members of BRN-C were up to 2,000 members with approximately 300,000 sympathizers.[38] Fundamentally, the insurgents are trained in 4 broad areas of military skills including unarmed combat, weapon handling, bomb making, and sharp shooting.[39]

In terms of organizational structure, BRN-C also has political and military wings similarly to its origin. Its work structure is systematically designed to have seven administrative sections working and reporting to top level management consisting of the chairman, the vice chairman, the general secretary, and the vice general secretary.[40] Six of the seven administrative bodies are tasked under the political wing, including the Economic Council, the Propaganda Council, the Foreign Affairs Council, the Youth Council, the Religious Council, and the Political Administration Council; meanwhile, only the Military Council operates under the military wing.[41] However, despite its organized structure, the lower-level leadership is rather loose, given that insurgent members of BRN-C work as independent cells with an established geographical area of responsibility.[42] At least 10 leaderships are assigned per village to manage a cell with 40 to 50 personnel under control.[43] Reportedly, 80 percent of villages in the three provinces consist of at least one militant cell that belongs to BRN-C.[44]

With an ultimate goal of carving out the three provinces into an independent Islamic state, BRN-C has essentially laid our 4 short-term to medium-term objectives: 1) an ungovernable Deep South, 2) an elimination of the Muslims’ political opposition, 3) a declining credibility of the Thai government and an increase in the number of students in militant-controlled institutions, and 4) an excessively violent response from the Thai security forces.[45] Previous research in 2011 claimed that the insurgent attacks have already succeeded in breeding distrust between the Thai government and the Deep South’s population.[46] The insurgents’ key instruments in achieving their goals are the use of indiscriminate violence against civilians, especially Buddhists, to effectively generate fear.[47] From 2004 to 2009, most casualties appeared to be local Malay-Muslims; however, Thai-Buddhist teachers and monks have become BRN-C’s better strategic targets of violence to provoke harsh responses from the government.[48] Types of insurgent attacks mostly executed by BRN-C’s conventional fighters and special forces are reportedly road-side killings, infrastructure bombings, school and temple shootings, and car bombings.[49]

Thailand’s Counterinsurgency Efforts: 2004-2019

The Thai government has been responding to the insurgents’ activities with a wide range of measures in military, diplomatic, and economic areas. This section traces Thailand’s COIN efforts in accordance with each administration after the resurface of violent conflict after the insurgent raid in the Deep South in January 2004. Four governments are chosen with an interest to examine how each has and has not learned from others’ mistakes in designing counterinsurgency policies for the Deep South. The first government is the Thaksin administration with its reputation of harsh policies and injustice. Then, the research presents the Surayud administration’s acknowledgement of the use of soft approach and negotiations, and its failure to contribute to major differences. Thirdly, the Abhisit government’s attempts to readjust administrative structure in the Deep South and to improve the locals’ economic lives will be discussed. Lastly, the paper will explore COIN efforts under the junta-led government in which violence continues to erupt and injustice remains in place.

Before getting into the details, actors the security scene and the overarching law will be presented in the following paragraphs to provide fundamental knowledge of how the government manages counterinsurgency. In terms of military response, the Thai government has been providing security for the local population in the Deep South through an employment of multiple actors including the regular army and police, the paramilitary rangers, the interior ministry force, the supervised village volunteer forces, and the border patrol police.[50] In general, the security forces are assigned to guard at the checkpoints on highway and to conduct territorial patrol. The security forces routinely travel in small groups to do surveillance; however, they hardly maneuver far from the checkpoint areas at night, allowing insurgents to attack in remote areas.[51] In addition, considering that their primary tasks are to protect Thai-Buddhist teachers and schools[52], the Malay-Muslims are left with higher degree of vulnerability to the attacks. Another form of injustice could be seen in the enacted martial law in the conflict area known as an Emergency Decree.

In 2005, the Executive Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations (an Emergency Decree) came into effect in the Deep South to enhance legal protections and to balance the military-civilian control between military and civilian officers.[53] According to Section 17 of a decree, enforcement officers are granted with the authority to arrest and detain suspects without a court warrant, and for up to 30 days without charges if the suspect is seen to be inclined to participate in a commission that would severely endanger the community or the situation as a whole.[54] In addition, Section 12 allows officers to detain a suspect in irregular places of detention where the detainees are prone to a higher chance human rights abuses.[55] On top of that, enforcement officers appear to be immune from criminal and civil prosecution regardless of their violence and abuses towards the detainees.[56]

Up until today, Thailand has been extending an Emergency Decree in the Deep South to boost law enforcement in the region. The latest extension is expected to be effective from June to September 19, 2019, or for 3 months.[57] This means that violence and abuses perpetrated by the Thai officers are likely to continue despite public scrutiny, as the junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has claimed its necessity in managing violence in the Deep South. It has been reported that an Emergency Decree has not reduced violent incidents; instead, it has further marginalized the local Malay-Muslims and has fostered their negative perception towards the security forces because of uninvestigated cases of abuses and disappearances.[58] Human rights abuses and excessive violence have been one of the main factors that undermine Thailand’s COIN efforts ever since 2004 as it shall be seen in the following sections.

Thaksin Administration (9 February 2001-19 September 2006)

Two notorious incidents that marked the reputation of Thaksin Shinawatra’s brutal approaches in the Deep South are the Krue Se and Tak Bai incidents. On April 28, 2004, the Krue Se mosque was seized by the insurgents after they had launched coordinated attacks on the government infrastructure and security checkpoints in the three provinces.[59] The mosque was immediately surrounded by the security forces by an order of General Pallop Pinmanee: the command was to retaliate with firearms and tear gases until all insurgents are terminated.[60] One hundred and seven insurgents died along with 5 members of the security forces.[61] Although the decision was not made on the behalf of the Prime Minister, the government’s negligence on investigating the extrajudicial killing indirectly allowed the military’s excessive use of violence in the following event: the Tak Bai protest on October 25, 2004.[62] The Malay-Muslims’ demonstration that took place in Tak Bai district led to the death of over 80 protestors.[63] The security forces fired on protestors and the bullets caused 7 deaths.[64] Meanwhile, the transfer of detained protestors to a military detention camp resulted in 78 deaths from suffocation and crushes, as the protestors were loaded up to 4 layers deep on trucks, and were travelling in a compact space for 4 to 5 hours.[65] Again, the security forces that were on duty were not properly investigated and convicted by the Supreme Court at all; in fact, the Court justified their acts by contending that the officers were just performing their tasks.[66]

Aside from violence, Thaksin administration’s COIN were criticized to be ineffective due to the absence of unity and direction, and because of its failure to address and understand the threat.[67] To begin with, the institutions responsible for insurgent threats in the South were shut down in 2002, and officials with long-standing experience were fired permanently, simply because they had close political ties with Thaksin’s opposing Party.[68] In addition, there were 13 government bureaucracies operating in the South with an approximate number of up to 80,000 government personnel, causing difficulty to inter-agency coordination and mission execution.[69] It was impossible for the officials to establish a clear chain of command with a specific person in charge when so many powerful players were at the scene. And without a leadership, low rank personnel were reluctant to initiate actions or attack because they were afraid to be held accountable for situational escalation.[70]

Furthermore, poor intelligence gathering and sharing network had impeded the security forces’ efficiency. For example, the police and the military refused to share information; plus, even different branches of police failed to provide intelligence on the arrested militant when being requested.[71] Limited intelligence sharing prohibited the government from making cases against the detainees because the officers lacked concrete evidence; in addition, the lack of information sometimes caused wrong arrests of suspects.[72] From 2004 to 2005, 85 percent of attacks were left unaccounted for as the government could not determine the perpetrators.[73]

Surayud Administration (1 October 2006-29 January 2008)

After Thaksin was ousted by the Thai military coup d’etat led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin in September, 2006, it was expected that the performance of counterinsurgency in the Deep South would get better under the administration of General Surayud Chulnont.[74] Thaksin’s harsh policies were promised to be replaced with negotiations and compromises on the basis of justice.[75] Several efforts were made by Prime Minister Surayud to reconcile with the insurgents including a promise of negotiation with Malaysia as a broker, an institution of Yawi as a working language in the southern provinces, a reinstitution of the Southern Border Province Administration Center (SBPAC), and a consideration of enacting shari’a laws; nonetheless, violence rate in the region did not cease but kept on rising.[76] The government’s failure to improve the situation was critically due to the similar problems with the previous administration: poor intelligence, inter-agency conflicts between the military and the police, and the remaining violent approaches.[77]

In terms of intelligence, Surayud administration’s main problem was its failure to create an intelligence gathering network to allow the identification of the insurgents.[78] The government’s nescience obviously hindered any efforts to negotiate with the insurgents despite its willingness to, because they did not know who to hold a dialogue with.[79] Moreover, the security forces continued to use excessive violence, and the number of troops was increasingly deployed as the government’s responses to pressure from the Thai-Buddhist community in the Deep South.[80] Apparently, the Thai-Buddhists in the conflict area displayed their hostility towards the reconciliation policy, opposing to any compensation to the protestors’ families and to Surayud’s apology to locals in the South.[81] The Thais’ attitudes of the Deep South’s Muslim population conflict got worse, as hatred towards insurgents were being spread on all over the media.[82] Despite the promise to use soft approach and to initiate peace dialogue, no satisfying outcome was produced under Surayud administration; in contrast, Surayud’s approaches provoked negativity of Thai-Buddhists towards the Muslim community, further breaching the relationship between the two communities.

Abhisit Administration (17 December 2008-5 August 2011)

In Abhisit administration, one of the significant economic development programs that had produced a desirable outcome in terms of relieving the local grievances was the nursing scholarship initiative for Malay-Muslim women. In 2007, the government appropriated approximately THB140 million to create a nursing scholarship program to respond to the lack of health practitioners in the three provinces.[83] The scholarship allowed Muslim women to become one of the pillars of the community by granting them a job opportunity so that they could earn living income for their family.[84] Furthermore, more civil servant nurses being allocated to the Deep South means that local hospitals and health centers would be able to accept more patients.[85] Abhisit’s approach on insurgency was argued to be less military focused, and was aimed to reform the detention process to erase the problem of human rights abuses.[86] However, the government failed to improve any aspects of issues of the security force’s immunity, the legal process of arrest and detention, and the local political autonomy.[87] Intelligence sharing also remained deficient as the police department and the military did not share database. The police used an Australiam-funded IED data and mapping center to investigate bombing attacks on its personnel; on the otherhand, the Royal Thai Army did not have the same center, and attacks on the RTA personnel were not recored in the police database.[88] Again, no significant changes were made under Abhisit administration in regards to resuming peace in the Deep South.

Prayuth Administration (24 August 2014-17 July 2019)

Before General Prayuth Chan-ocha assumed a role of a prime minister, a government led by Yingluck Shinawatra from 2011 to 2014 admitted for the first time in the Thai counterinsurgency history that the conflict in the Deep South is rooted from cultural and political grievances.[89] With an acknowledgment of the root causes of the conflict, Yingluck initiated peace process, proposing to decentralize and to give certain level of autonomy to the three provinces, and reestablished the SBPAC.[90] By addressing the local grievances and introducing decentralization, Yingluck’s efforts were complimented for being substantive, and that peace process could produce some tangible progress in the Deep South.[91] But her term ended by the coup d’etat led by General Prayuth before any efforts could yield a result. Any perceived Yingluck’s legacy was deemed by the junta to be dismissed in order to eliminate the Shinawatra’s political influence and legitimacy. However, Yingluck’s peace process was reestablished to become Prime Minister Prayuth’s significant COIN effort named the “Happy Peace Process”[92], which is based on the triangle of stability, prosperity, and sustainability, in order to improve local economics, the justice system, inter-agency coordination, and to proceed with peace dialogue.[93] The Happy Peace Process contains 3 levels of mechanism: 1) the policy level, 2) the Peace Dialogue Panel, and 3) the Area-based Inter-Agency Coordination.[94] The product of these peace processes is the established peace dialogue with MARA Patani, an umbrella organization that includes the political wing of insurgent groups in the Deep South, which is hosted by the Malaysia government in Malaysia.[95]

However, the peace dialogue never produces any tangible outcome because both parties: the Thai government and MARA Patani, lack of mutual confidence to seriously review each other’s requests.[96] An interview of BRN Leader Sukree Hari on June 9, 2019, suggests that Bangkok could not convince the insurgents about their commitment to resolve the conflict. Sukre told the reported that Thailand is “insincere” and is “wasting Malay-Patani people’s times” at the negotiation table.[97] Any agreements or proposals have not been aken into consideration and have received no sign of Thailand’s willingness to sign them.[98] The BRN Leader’s statement is not far from the truth after all, as MARA Patani has never earned acceptance from the Thai Peace Panel as a legitimate partner in official talks.[99]  BRN dismisses the standing of MARA Patani but demands direct talk with Bangkok: the demand that was obviously denied when the Prime Minister publicly denounced BRN in an abrasive tone that Thailand would not negotiate with lawbreakers.[100] Thailand has also rejected any involvement of the international community as an observer during the negotiation; meanwhile, BRN contends that it would not engage in a talk unless a third party and a neutral leader are present.[101]

On top of that, human rights abuses continue to be the dominant element of Prayuth administration COIN efforts. New legislation was passed to grant the security forces with the authority and immunity to arrest and detain any suspects without charge.[102] Suspects who are brought to the detention camp inevitably face a possibility of torture or physical harms. The most recent case of an insurgent suspect who went into a coma for an unknown reason after being taken into the military detention camp is the best-case study of the lawlessness nature of how the security forces deal with insurgents. On July 21, 2019, Abdullah Esomuso was taken to the hospital after being found unconscious due to severe brain swelling from a lack of oxygen.[103] The Army spokesperson claimed that there is no physical evidence that link the suspect’s illness to any authority’s doing; however, the suspect’s wife believes her husband was tortured during the interrogation.[104] All security cameras inside the camp were reportedly “out of order”; thus, the investigators could not see what actually happened to Addullah inside the interrogation room.[105] It would not be surprising if the military actually used harsh interrogation techniques with the suspect, considering that the current junta-led government has been known for its discrimination and violence against civilian.

Conclusion

So far, Thailand has shown no serious effort in addressing the actual causes of insurgency, and has been focusing on killing and arresting suspects rather than promoting economic or political reform that would substantively answer the needs of the local population to prevent them from giving support to the insurgents. The military has been heavily relied on the use of excessive force on insurgents and suspects, ignoring the possibility of the insurgents using the government’s harsh responses to propagandize and to justify their causes. The use of draconian law also prevails overtime even though it allows security forces to wrongfully exercise their power and causes bitterness among the Malay-Muslim community in the Deep South. Furthermore, the Thai government has not utilized peace dialogue effectively to promote reconciliation and build a road towards peace in which the needs of all parties can be compromised.

The situation in the Deep South remains worrisome when a motorcycle bomb was detonated in order to attack the guarding forces on duty at the Bor Thong Market in Pattani on May 27, 2019.  The bombing attack, which was allegedly the work of BRN, resulted in two deaths and 18 injuries, most victims appeared to be ethnic Malay-Muslims.  This attack reflects how the military government was unable to provide security for the local population, nor that it could use its intelligence network to effectively identify the insurgents or predict future attacks. Although the military regime has ended after the election in May 2019, the new cabinet remains being led by former junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, with former deputy prime minister General Prawit Wongsuwan assuming the same role and being in charge of security.  It is thus unlikely that there will be any spearheading counterinsurgency policies that could actually resolve the Deep South conflict in the near future, given how Prayuth was unenthusiastic in negotiating with MARA Patani or BRN during the past five years.

End Notes


[1] Zachary Abuza, Conspiracy of Silence the Insurgency in Southern Thailand (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2009), 11.

[2] "Thailand: Conflict Timeline," Peace Insight, accessed July 14, 2019, https://www.peaceinsight.org/conflicts/thailand/conflict-profile/conflict-timeline/.

[3] Maximillian Morch, "The Slow Burning Insurgency in Thailand's Deep South," The Diplomat, February 07, 2018, accessed July 21, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/the-slow-burning-insurgency-in-thailands-deep-south/.

[4] Jeffrey Hays, "LAND, GEOGRAPHY, CLIMATE AND REGIONS OF THAILAND," Facts and Details, accessed July 21, 2019, http://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Thailand/sub5_8h/entry-3323.html#chapter-7.

[5] “Southern Thailand: The Problem with Paramilitaries,” Crisis Group Asia Report, no. 140, 2007, 7.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Edward Cavanough, "Crossing the Malaysia-Thailand Border: Is It Safe?" One Road to London, March 24, 2018, accessed July 21, 2019, https://www.oneroadtolondon.com/articles/crossing-malaysia-thailand.

[8] James Klein et al., "Democracy and conflict in Southern Thailand," Bangkok: The Asia Foundation (2010), 19.

[9] Andrea M. Lopez and Steven F. Jackson, “From Winning Hearts and Minds to Whacking Them in Outhouses: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism Policy Across East and Southeast Asia.” (2017), 35.

[10] Klein et al., "Democracy and conflict in Southern Thailand," 20.

[11] Ibid, 22.

[12] Ibid.

[13] What's behind Thailand's Buddhist-Muslim Divide?" South China Morning Post, March 29, 2018, accessed July 15, 2019, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/2139389/looking-within-whats-behind-thailands-buddhist-muslim-divide.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Peter Chalk, “The Malay-Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand: Understanding the Conflict's Evolving Dynamic,” RAND Counterinsurgency Study Paper 5. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2008. https://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/OP198.html, 19.

[17] Rohan Gunaratna and Arabinda Acharya, The Terrorist Threat from Thailand: Jihad or Quest for Justice? (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2013), 17.

[18] Abuza, Conspiracy of Silence the Insurgency in Southern Thailand, 15.

[19] Gunaratna and Acharya, The Terrorist Threat from Thailand, 17.

[20] Adam Burke et al.,. "The Case of Southern Thailand," The Asia Foundation, 2013, 2.

[21] Anders Engvall and Magnus Andersson, “The Dynamics of Conflict in Southern Thailand,” Asia Economic Papers 13, no.3 (2014):, doi:10.1162/asep_a_00303, 177.

[22] Gunaratna and Acharya, The Terrorist Threat from Thailand, 17.

[23] Chalk, “The Malay-Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand: Understanding the Conflict's Evolving Dynamic.”

[24] Ibid, 5.

[25] Engvall and Andersson, “The Dynamics of Conflict in Southern Thailand,” 180.

[26] Chalk, “The Malay-Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand: Understanding the Conflict's Evolving Dynamic,” 5.

[27] Engvall and Andersson, “The Dynamics of Conflict in Southern Thailand,” 181.

[28] Ibid.

[29] "Thailand 'Not Sincere' in Negotiating with Southern Rebels, BRN Leader Says," BenarNews, accessed July 15, 2019, https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/thai/negotiator-speaks-07172019154246.html.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Till Maximilian Möller, "Insurgency in Southern Thailand: A Quest for Identity," Sicherheit & Frieden 29, no. 1 (2011): , doi:10.5771/0175-274x-2011-1-7, 11.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Abuza, Conspiracy of Silence the Insurgency in Southern Thailand, 111.

[34] Ibid, 113.

[35] Sascha Helbardt, "Deciphering Southern Thailand’s Violence" (PhD diss., University of Passau, 2011), 81.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid, 98.

[38] Abuza, Conspiracy of Silence the Insurgency in Southern Thailand, 112.

[39] Chalk, “The Malay-Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand: Understanding the Conflict's Evolving Dynamic,” 11.

[40] Helbardt, "Deciphering Southern Thailand’s Violence," 35.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Abuza, Conspiracy of Silence the Insurgency in Southern Thailand, 119-120.

[43] Ibid, 119.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Zachary Abuza, "The Ongoing Insurgency in Southern Thailand: Trends in Violence, Counterinsurgency Operations, and the Impact of National Politics (Strategic Perspectives, No. 6)," 2011, doi: 10.21236/ada577624, 17.

[46] Ibid, 20.

[47] "Southern Thailand's Malay Muslim Freedom Fighters," Middle East Institute, accessed July 17, 2019, https://www.mei.edu/publications/southern-thailands-malay-muslim-freedom-fighters.

[48] Abuza, "The Ongoing Insurgency in Southern Thailand,” 11-12.

[49] Helbardt, "Deciphering Southern Thailand’s Violence," 43-47.

[50] “Southern Thailand: The Problem with Paramilitaries,” 1.

[51] Abuza, "The Ongoing Insurgency in Southern Thailand,” 13.

[52] Ibid.

[53] “Thailand’s Emergency Decree: No Solution,” Crisis Group Asia Report, no. 105, 2005, 3.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] "Emergency Decree Extended in Deep South," Thai News Agency MCOT, accessed July 19, 2019, https://tna.mcot.net/view/pWNXFQG.

[58] "Thailand's Emergency Decree: No Solution," Crisis Group, September 15, 2016, accessed July 20, 2019, https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/thailand/thailands-emergency-decree-no-solution.

[59] "Thailand: Investigate Krue Se Mosque Raid," Human Rights Watch, April 17, 2015, , accessed July 19, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2006/04/28/thailand-investigate-krue-se-mosque-raid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] "Thailand: Government Fails to Provide Justice for the Victims of Tak Bai Killings," Amnesty International, accessed July 19, 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2013/08/thailand-government-fails-provide-justice-victims-tak-bai-killings/.

[65] “Southern Thailand: The Problem with Paramilitaries,” Crisis Group Asia Report, no. 140, 2007, 6.

[66] Amnesty International, "Thailand: Government Fails to Provide Justice for the Victims of Tak Bai Killing.”

[67] Abuza, Conspiracy of Silence the Insurgency in Southern Thailand, 172.

[68] Ibid, 164-165.

[69] Ibid, 167.

[70] Ibid, 168.

[71] Ibid, 168-169.

[72] Ibid, 103.

[73] Ibid, 102.

[74] Gunaratna and Acharya, The Terrorist Threat from Thailand, 2.

[75] Harish, S. P., and Joseph Chinyong Liow. "The Coup and the Conflict in Southern Thailand." Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 19, no. 1 (2007), 170.

[76] Gunaratna and Acharya, The Terrorist Threat from Thailand: Jihad or Quest for Justice?, 2.

[77] S. and Liow, "The Coup and the Conflict in Southern Thailand," 176-178.

[78] Ibid, 177.

[79] Ibid, 178.

[80] Ibid.

[81] "Southern Thailand: The Impact of the Coup," Crisis Group, August 29, 2016, accessed August 03, 2019, https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/thailand/southern-thailand-impact-coup.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Abuza, "The Ongoing Insurgency in Southern Thailand,” 12.

[84] Ibid, 13.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Zachary Abuza, "New Government in Thailand Struggles to Defeat the Insurgency," CTC Sentinel 2, no. 2 (2009), 2.

[87] Abuza, "The Ongoing Insurgency in Southern Thailand,” 24.

[88] Ibid, 15.

[89] Lopez and Jackson, “From Winning Hearts and Minds to Whacking Them in Outhouses,” 9.

[90] Joshua Kurlantzick, "Thailand's Junta and the Southern Insurgency," Council on Foreign Relations, accessed July 20, 2019, https://www.cfr.org/blog/thailands-junta-and-southern-insurgency.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Srisompob Jitpiromsri, “Chapter 1: Introduction,” Asian Affairs: An American Review, 45:2 (2018), DOI: 10.1080/00927678.2019.158428, 48.

[93] Matthew Wheeler, "THAILAND'S SOUTHERN INSURGENCY," Southeast Asian Affairs, 2014, 384-385.

[94] Srisompob Jitpiromsri and Suwara Kaewnuy, “Chapter 5: Conflict Transformation and Public Opinion in Thailand’s Deep South During the Period from 2015 to 2017,” Asian Affairs: An American Review, 45:2 (2018), doi: 10.1080/00927678.2019.158428, 130.

[95] Ibid, 122.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Nani Yusof, "Thailand 'Not Sincere' in Negotiating with Southern Rebels, BRN Leader Says," BenarNews, accessed July 24, 2019, https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/thai/negotiator-speaks-07172019154246.html.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Jitpriromsri and Kaewnuy, “Chapter 5: Conflict Transformation and Public Opinion in Thailand’s Deep South During the Period from 2015 to 2017,” 130.

[100] Ibid, 132-133.

[101] Austin Bodetti, "Thailand's Forgotten Insurgency," The Diplomat, June 15, 2017, accessed July 21, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2017/06/thailands-forgotten-insurgency/.

[102] Kurlantzick, "Thailand's Junta and the Southern Insurgency.”

[103] Mariyam Ahmad and Matahari Ismail, "Thai Deep South: Suspected Rebel in Coma after Arrest, Interrogation," BenarNews, accessed July 24, 2019, https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/thai/suspect-hospitalized-07222019170223.html.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Ibid.

About the Author(s)

Chayathip Weerakajorn received an M.A. in International Security from George Mason University in 2019. Her interest in counterinsurgency theory has emerged from the ongoing conflict in her country: the insurgency in Thailand. Aside from counterinsurgency, her subject of interest includes transnational organized crime study. Currently, she is pursuing a job in Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.