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Finding a long term solution in the 'Deep South' of Thailand

By Murray Hunter - posted Friday, 7 June 2013


With the apparent stall in negotiations between the Thai Government and Barisan Revolusi Patani (BRN) over the violence of the 'Deep South', one must start considering how long before a solution to this lingering insurgency problem can be found

With roughly 5,300 people being killed since 2004, with 45 killed and 75 injured since the negotiations between the Thai Government and BRN began negotiations, with Malaysia mediating, there are calls by opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to suspend negotiations with the BRN until the level of violence is lowered. There are also risks that the military may go on the offensive again and conduct pre-emptive raids on suspected 'terrorist' hideouts.

These apparently stalled negotiations could be interpreted to mean that the BRN are not the sole voice for the various insurgent groups in the 'Deep South' and some of these groups feel angry that the BRN is grandstanding in public claiming to represent those in the south with grievances. In fact if one drives from Hat Yai in Songkhla Province through Petani, Yala, and Narathiwat, what is most striking is the diversity and fragmentation of 'Malay' Muslims within the 'Deep South'. There are those who live by the coast, those that live in the mountains around Yala, those who live in rubber estates within Narathiwat, and the urban Malay Muslims. All have different interests, livelihoods, and leaders, where by far, the majority are peace loving people.

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However what one will also see when making this trip around the south is the stark difference in the culture of the region with the rest of Thailand. And if one has some knowledge of Malay culture, the difference between the Muslims of the 'Deep South' and the rest of Thailand can be seen. The "Petani Malays" appear to live their lives the way they have for generations, and resist the imposition of both Thai culture and 'globalization' upon their communities.

This is an extremely important perspective that must be understood. Different 'Malay' groups within the 'deep south' react differently to the perceived threat upon their culture. Urban Malays have become vibrant micro-entrepreneurs, while rural 'Malays' still prefer to undertake their traditional livelihoods, which are being threatened by development in some cases.

Thai Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha's call to build a Border fence between Malaysia and Thailand to prevent insurgents freely moving across the border indicates that those perforating the violence are actually not from the 'Deep South' itself. There are many rumors that most bombings and other acts of terrorism are actually undertaken by those who don't live in the 'Deep South' and that's why intelligence on the ground most often has difficulty in predicting attacks. They occur anonymously and without anybody claiming responsibility, where in fact some are actually acts of gangsters and retribution by other parties.

The recent film clips posted on Youtube on April 26th by Ustaz Hassan Taib and a second video on May 24th by Abdulkarim Khalib of the BRN, making demands, highlights that this is a "Malay" issue and not a "Muslim" issue. Their statements highlighted the Malay history of Petani and their need to fight for the rights of "Bangsa Melayu Petani" or the Malay race of Petani. This is only the second time any demands have ever been made publicly, the first by the Petani United Liberation Organization (PULO) from Europe back in 1968. However these announcements might be more about the BRN trying to assert their authority in discussions with the government over the vast number of groups than anything else.

This shows the complexity of the problem. Violence originating from outside of the 'Deep South' Region by unknown people, and a plea for the restoration of "Petani Malay Nationalism' within the Thai State are paradoxes that must be reconciled and acted upon by the authorities. Clamping down on the citizens of the 'Deep South' by Thai security forces risks creating more resentment by locals, and being ineffective anyway, as these people are not the perpetrators of the violence.

Not understanding the unique 'Malay' identities of the 'Deep South' is missing the whole reason why there are feelings of insecurity by Malay-Muslims of the 'Deep South".

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The problem of the South must be seen as an ethnic identity problem and not a religious problem. This point has fundamentally been lost. To the Muslim-Malays it's about protecting traditions, language, culture, and religion.

So what is the solution to the violence of the deep south?

Unfortunately external engagement will only raise suspicions in the South as to the motives of the outsiders. The solution to the problems will only come from within the south itself. It won't come from dialogues, negotiations, forums and lectures about how Muslims in the South must be responsible, etc. It will come from a changing consciousness at the community level.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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