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Rebels in Thailand's Troubled South Make Public Debut on YouTube

In Thailand's southern borderlands where various rebel groups have led a deadly nine-year insurgency, the majority of the violence has remained anonymous, committed without any one group coming forward to claim responsibility, make demands, or put a face to the conflict.

That is until now.

Shortly before Thailand's government began peace talks with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Patani (BRN), one of the main Muslim insurgency groups in the Deep South, as the area is known, Ustaz Hassan Taib and Abdulkarim Khalib released a rare video [ms] on YouTube on April 26, 2013 introducing the group. BRN seeks to fight for freedom and justice for the people of historic Patani region.

The Deep South of Thailand, encompassing three provinces and a half and a population of roughly two million people, is home to one of the world's most violent conflicts. Since 2004, more than 5,300 people have been killed – roughly 2,000 more fatalities than the Afghanistan conflict. In April of 2013 alone, 45 have been killed and 75 injured in 298 incidents.

Thai Rangers patrolling in Pattani, south of Thailand. Photo by Jack Kurtz, Copyright @Demotix (9/29/2009)

Thai Rangers patrolling in Pattani, south of Thailand. Photo by Jack Kurtz, Copyright @Demotix (9/29/2009)

The conflict-plagued southern border provinces of Thailand – Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and parts of Songkla, are majority Muslims. Many speak Bahasa Melayu Patani, which very few Thais understand. They represent a distinct minority group whose identity, culture, religion and tradition are different from the majority Buddhist Thais.

There are several insurgency groups currently taking aim both at soldiers and civilians in this heavily militarized Deep South. It has remained unclear as to the purposes of these insurgencies other than some broader goal of gaining more autonomy from Bangkok. The very secrecy of these insurgencies makes them bizarre.

On May 24, a second video [ms] on YouTube was released, outlining five key demands. Speaking in Bahasa Melayu Patani, Noor made clear that BRN is a “liberation” and not a separatist movement. The group demands that the peace talks with the Thai government must be observed by third-party organizations, such as the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), and it should be mediated by the Malaysian government.

Prior to this, only exiled members of the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), be they in Europe or the Middle East, have made some demands known to the government. PULO, founded in 1968, sought to re-assert itself as a group capable of negotiating with the government.

Given that there are many insurgency groups and factions operating in the southernmost provinces, it seems the BRN intends to claim that it is “the one” organization that will be negotiating with the Thai government, and not the PULO, or any other group. Moreover, the BRN makes clear it does not trust the Thai government and demands the Malaysian counterpart to mediate in the peace talks.

The Malaysians, on the other hand, are bracing for more waves of violence in the troubled border region, as other militant groups disagreed with the peace talks, sparking a surge of deadly attacks there.

The Thai army took a step further and began discussing building a “border fence” as part of a new surveillance tool that would limit the movement of militant groups. So far, other measures to quell the insurgencies in the Deep South have failed, such as the imposition of an emergency decree and deployment of 60,000 troops.

The video clips elicited some angry response in the Thai blogosphere. Warakorn Boonyakorn reminded the insurgents that religion should be about spreading the message of peace:

No religion teaches you to kill people. And whoever still does this “repulsive” thing… you can't claim it's religion….Religion is not what's wrong with this, it's the people.

MK47 questioned the wisdom of negotiating with the rebels:

You know they are the leaders who ordered the killing of hundreds of Thais? Why negotiate with them?…

David Kim clarified that the rebels are fighting for liberation:

We don't want to be part of Thailand. We are not Thais. Our blood will never become Thai blood…and we want to emphasize we are not separating [from Thailand], but we are liberating ourselves…

Muslim North urged the government to stop talking to terrorists:

Don't negotiate with terrorists.

The violence has not faded since the recent peace talks and the International Crisis Group has warned that insurgent groups are getting stronger and bolder. It seems Thailand is bracing for more storm and perhaps more YouTube clips.

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