Over nine years ago, violent incidents erupted in the deep South of Thailand on 4 January 2004, when a group of armed perpetrators launched raids on a military camp in Cho-airong district, Narathiwat province, attempting to attack authorities, seize government firearms, and instigate instability. Following the arms theft, the three southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, and some districts of Songkhla became the scenes of violence, and the conflicts have dragged on to this day.
In fact, even before 2004, different views had existed and violent incidents had occurred in the southern border provinces for quite some time, but the situation had rarely got out of hand. Each government has tried numerous ways to cope with the situation, implementing various strategies and projects, some in the short term and some on a continual basis.
Although a separatist movement does exist in the deep South – and it has made efforts to upgrade the movement to a fighting force – the unrest has not involved sectarian or religious conflicts. Most local people do not agree with those who have destructive intentions and who are trying to create turmoil.
The Thai government has explained that violence in the southern border provinces is perpetrated by a small number of extremist elements with the intention of creating divisions and hatred in a uniquely and historically harmonious, multicultural, and multiethnic society. The attacks on innocent civilians, whether they are Muslim, Buddhist, or of any other faith, are equally abhorrent and affect the lives of everyone in the region. Security personnel have been deployed to protect the lives and livelihoods of local people. All violent incidents are investigated and prosecuted in the courts in accordance with criminal law.
According to the Deep South Watch Center, Prince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus, the unrest in Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and four districts of Songkhla from 4 January 2004 to 31 December 2012 experienced 12,597 violent incidents, killing 5,501 people and injuring 9,725 persons. Both Muslims and Buddhists were all victims of the violent incidents.
Security is not the only problem, as statistics on incidents involving other issues, such as dark influences, illegal trade, drugs, and local crime, have been found to be higher than incidents related to separatism.
The Thai government has placed the issue of the southern situation as a top national priority. Apart from adopting the “politics leads the military” approach in peace-building operations in the South, It has also focused on a development-led approach in eradicating poverty and drug problems, improving education, and providing greater opportunities for local people.
The Government has also stressed the adoption of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s royal advice to “understand, reach out, and develop” as the central strategy to tackle unrest in the southern border provinces, together with the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy, advocated by His Majesty as a path to well-balanced and sustainable development. The word “understanding” means to seek to understand history, the causes of violence, and the successes and failures in tackling the problems. In other words, people must understand the past, present, and future of the situation.
“Reaching out” involves efforts to win the hearts of local people and learn their feelings and thoughts. Without reaching out or accessibility, it will be impossible to resolve the problems.
The word “development” means the proper way of developing in order to cope with the problems with greater efficiency and effectiveness. Without understanding and reaching out, people will not be able to carry out development properly. As a result, the problems will not be solved, while violence might escalate.
As for the Sufficiency Economy concept, it means having enough to live on and to live for and to lead a reasonably comfortable life without extravagance or destruction of the environment. A survey shows that most people in Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, Songkhla, and Satun agree that the adoption of the Sufficiency Economy philosophy is suitable in their areas. They believe that the philosophy will lead to a more economical way of living without fighting to take advantage of others.
In handling the southern situation, the Government assigned the Internal Security Operations Command to be in charge of security matters and the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center to be responsible for development work. It formed the Committee on the Mobilization of Southern Border Provinces Policy and Strategies, which also set up an operation center, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Police Captain Chalerm Ubumrung, to facilitate the tackling of southern problems in accord with the conditions in local environments.
The principle of ensuring justice has been emphasized as part of the peace-building process in the southern border provinces, as well. In this regard, the Southern Border Police Operations Center was instructed in April 2013 to reconsider arrest warrants issued in accordance with the Executive Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations. The arrest warrants for the persons suspected of creating unrest, charged under the Criminal Code, would be revoked, if evidence was insufficient. The instruction shows the Government’s gesture of leniency, as its immediate objective is to reduce the level of violence and prevent innocent deaths.
As for the Executive Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations, it was announced in 2005 as an instrument that would enable state officials to deal with the southern situation more effectively. The enforcement of the emergency decree lasts three months at a time and may be renewed, if necessary, through Cabinet approval. It covers Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and four districts of Songkhla. A major development is that the Government will replace the emergency decree with the Internal Security Act in the areas where the situation has improved. Under the Act, militants involved with the southern unrest will be granted an amnesty and freed from criminal charges, if they are categorized as “misled persons” and agree to undergo re-education, which will take no more than six months.
In another significant step to reduce the level of violence in the southern border provinces, the Thai government has held peace dialogues with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate (National Revolutionary Front), known in short as BRN. The dialogues came after the Secretary-General of the National Security Council of Thailand, Lieutenant General Paradorn Pattanatabut, and the Chief of the BRN Liaison Office in Malaysia, Ustaz Hassan Taib, signed the General Consensus Document on Peace Dialogue on 28 February 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The signing was witnessed by Datuk Mohamed Thajudeen Abdul Wahab, Secretary of Malaysia's National Security Council.
The Government explained that the signing signaled the beginning of a dialogue process between the National Security Council and groups holding different views and ideologies to that of the State. It does not confer any recognition upon the groups taking part in the dialogue. In addition, all actions taken with regard to this matter have been entirely in line with the framework of the Constitution of Thailand, which stipulates that separatism is not legally permissible.
Concerning this issue, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said, “We believe that dialogue with all stakeholders and groups is an important step forward. And we must continue on this path in order to achieve long lasting peace and stability.”
Following the signing the General Consensus Document on Peace Dialogue, the Thai government held the first round of dialogues with BRN on 28 March 2013 in Kuala Lumpur. The second round took place on 29 April 2013, also in Kuala Lumpur. The third is scheduled for 13 June 2013.