Pattani, Yala and Narithiwat, are on the Thai side of the Thai-Malaysian border. In an majority Buddhist country, these three provinces are around 80% Muslim. For the past five years these three provinces have been the centre of a conflict during which, according to Songkhla University, over 12,500 violent incidents have left over 10,000 injured or killed. The government is now reporting that the violence has spread to the neighbouring Songkhla province.
"It seems the conflict just started," a Canadian volunteer told me in 2007 when we met in Bangkok. Actually, the conflict has been going for much, much longer. For more than 100 years the state of Thailand and the region of Pattani, have been in conflict. This is just the latest round of fighting. The last wave of violence began on April 28 2004 when 106 people were killed after soldiers opened fire on local Muslim people at the Kau-Sae mosque in Pattani. The incident caused something inside people's minds to explode; the violence has got worse each year since.
On this site, you can view information on the local people who are working to bring peace to South Thailand. I hope this article can give some sense of the challenge they face, given the levels of violence and militarisation which have disturbed the Deep South of Thailand.
The victims of this conflict are ordinary people
With the continual violence on the streets, it seems like anybody can be a victim in the Thailand these days. In December, I travelled to this region for Insight on Conflict, where I met many people who were afraid, too cautious to even talk with each other, let alone an outsider – whether they be in the media, government, or NGO. When people are killed, nobody ever finds out who did it. Nothing can ever be proved, and the person who fired the shot or set the bomb stays hidden. Nobody stays out after sunset, or leaves their house before dawn, if they can help it. One of my friends, a peace volunteer, told me how she’ll never take the same road to and from a place. This is normal life in Thailand’s 'Deep South'.
On my trip from Yala to Pattani, and passing through the district of Saiburi, we followed a road which the driver told me is a common place for killings. Most are just ordinary people caught in the crossfire. After he finished talking he quickly turned the car onto a different road. It was 5pm and getting dark. We were still 50km from Pattani. I kept quiet and let him concentrate on the road ahead. Anyone can be a target in this conflict.
The victims in this conflict are not only the military and insurgents, they are villagers – both Muslim and Buddhist. The violence has touched almost everybody – if you haven’t lost a parent, child or partner, you know somebody who has. Women, children and the elderly are not safe when bombs explode in markets and mosques. Innocent people are caught in the crossfire – the person who was shot as he rode his motorbike; the wife killed by a bomb; the man killed when police burst into his home; or the local leader who was killed after refusing to allow the military to establish a checkpoint and build a trench in his village.