Since February of this year the Malaysian government has sponsored talks in Kuala Lumpur (KL) with the aim of ending the bloodshed that has plagued southern Thailand for nearly a decade.
At the negotiating table are Thai government officials and the rebel group Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-C). The talks have, thus far, failed to achieve their objective, as there remains a wide gap between both sides’ demands. The absence of leadership or political cohesion within the insurgency raises question about which rebels are being represented in KL, and to what extent the BRN-C fully represents or can influence all entities that comprise the insurgency. Events on the ground indicate that the insurgency has entered a new phase of enhanced violence and human rights abuses that now target children. Within this context, prospects for success in KL appear dim.
Three-quarters of Thailand’s population is ethnically Thai and 95% are Buddhist. Yet, in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Satun, and Yala the majority of citizens are ethnic Malays who practice Islam. All of the provinces, except Yala, were previously governed by the Malay-Muslim sultanate of Pattani, which ceased to exist after the state of Thailand (then known as “Siam”) annexed the territory over a century ago.
While under Bangkok’s rule, many Muslims in southern Thailand have complained of an oppressive and corrupt political order that suppresses their ethnic, religious and linguistic identities, while subjecting them to second-class citizenship and marginalization. The Muslim-majority provinces of southern Thailand are indeed the poorest in this comparatively rich nation. Since the 1960s, a number of Malay-Muslim currents have resisted Bangkok’s control over southern Thailand in pursuit of the re-establishment of an independent state based on the Malay-Muslim identity. In 2004, an insurgency grew under the banner of jihad, symbolizing a new Islamist identity of the Pattani people.