South South

Case Study on the Three Southern Provinces of Thailand

Ranee Hassarungsee
Chittpapat Batprakhon
Ekkarin Tuansiri
Social Agenda Working Group
Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute

ที่มา :


The ongoing conflicts and violence in the three southern provinces of Thailand which have been escalated since 2004 until present have resulted in innumerable deaths and injuries of civilians. Official statistics including death toll and injuries until December 2007 reached 8026 – out of which 2429 men killed, 4147 men injured, 210 women killed and 922 women injured. 57 children have died and 261 children aged between 1-15 suffered injuries. 30 children were together with their parents and saw their parents tortured or killed; the children managed to survive.

Many organizations including GOs and NGOs have come to the three southern provinces to work in response to this crisis. For instance, there are human rights and humanitarian organizations, social development, environmental and organizations which work on rehabilitation and housing projects. There are also organizations which work to empower women groups and children in the three southern provinces

The current socio-political situation in the southern border provinces

The Thaksin Shinnawatra government in 2005 enacted an Emergency Law that gave the prime minister the power to declare a tree-month-old emergency status in any area in the southern border provinces. The emergency period was extendable for three months at a time. According to the government, the law was the more precautious move compared to Martial Law used by the military. Several members of civil society sector and the academia expressed their disagreement to the law on the ground that it gave the prime minister too much power. In addition, Article 17 of the law violated human rights of the locals by giving impunity to government officials on the ground. This law was enacted in the situation where movement against Mr. Thaksin gained momentum in the country. Martial Law still remained active in the area despite the enactment of the Emergency Law.

After the coup d’ tat in September 2006 that brought down the Thaksin government, an Army-initiated-International Security Bill received cabinet approval on 19 June 2007. Again, a number of academics, human rights activists and media practitioners protested against it, saying that the bill would turn normal situations into emergency ones. It would pave ways for more military roles anytime and anywhere in the country without having to declare emergency status and without judicial scrutiny. State and military power has expanded, sometimes overlapping with each other, with the support from the three laws. At the same time, people’s political space has shrink. Family institution, local community and society in the three southern border provinces have been weakening by several factors.

Political turmoil at the center limited the efforts to solve problems in the south. The Surayut Chulanon government finally brought back three organizations to handle the situation

  1. The Internal Security Operation Command responsible for the overall security policy

  2. The Southern Border Province Administrative Centre working with people on the ground and good governance

  3. Civilian, Police and Military Joint Command Centre coordinating police and military forces as well as intelligence agencies

The Internal Security Operation Command acts as an umbrella organization for the other two. The elected government that came to power in 2008 left policy making on the southern border provinces into the hand of the military. Chief of Army held a position of the Internal Security Operation Command instead of the prime minister. That was because the government viewed the problems in the south only as security matters. Another reason was the confusing political situation in Bangkok and government’s attempt to maintain a good relationship with the military.

Since June 2007, the military has begun an intense measure of search and arrest, leading to a decrease of violent incidents. However, the average death toll and injury remain the same despite the fact that around 50,000-60,000 troops have been sent to the area and the increasing of annual military budget to 143 billion Baht. Previous military budget, which was around 80 billion Baht per year between 2000 and 2006, had been increased to 115 billion Baht in 2007 or after the coup. Security has indeed become a viable business.

A four-year-plan under Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda, which started in October 2007, is divided into two stages. The first stage of the plan, which covers the period of 2007 and 2008, focuses on ending violent incidents through intense military operations. From 2009 to 2010 it focuses on development and community strengthening. The structure of military operations in the south has been adjusted as follows:

The First Army Region (from the central part of the country) responsible for Narathiwat province

The Second Army Region (from the northeast) responsible for Pattani province

The Third Army Region (from the north) responsible for Yala province

The Forth Army Region (from the south) responsible for five districts in Songkhla province

While the Army explained that the structural adjustment reflected south Thailand as a priority of the Army Chief, some expressed doubts if it was driven from a need to share the huge interests from resource allocation to the south with different groups in the Army.

Armed forces


Besides the police and military personal. It is a common practice for the Army to recruit rangers in order to increase its forces in the field. One reason is its convenience and lower costs. Rangers received lower salary than professional military officers while the establishment and abolishment of a ranger unit can be easily done.

One important reason for the army to recruit rangers for southern border area is its needs for people who know the location, local language and culture. But in reality only 30 percent of rangers working in the area are Thai Muslims of Malay ethnic. There was also a tendency that more people from outside the area would join in the October 2008 recruitment. The number of rangers in the area is estimated increase from 7,000 to 9,000.

Those rangers receive a 45-day training program. While they are often accused of violating human rights of the locals, is a high percentage of injury and death among them. A military officer who is responsible for eight ranger units said that he had dismissed six rangers in the past six months mostly due to drug problem. Initial operations done by rangers in the south turned out to be a severe damage especially the mistakes made during the transportation of protesters from Takbai district of Narathiwat province in October 2004 which indicated the incapability and brutality of ranger units.

Another example is the shooting and searching incident at a Pondok school in Taseh village on 9 March 2007 by Ranger Unit 4202. An investigation by the Parliamentary Committee on Southern Affairs later pointed out that the rangers shot at civilians without reasons. After the incident, several Pondok school children were asked by the insurgency to join them. Many professional military officers realize that such incident could drive people to cooperate with the insurgency.

Although ranger recruitment system was later developed and included criminal record checking, a policy to recruit relatives of victims of the violence is a risky one. The Army has admitted that some rangers had used their status and government weapons to attach on their personal enemy. The insurgency also used some rangers for their intelligence work. Therefore, more dependency on rangers might lead to bigger problems in the future.

Local Influential persons

In some areas, local government officials illegally utilize influential people to deal with villagers who are suspected to cooperate with the insurgency. There have been cases of parents of teenagers who involved in violent incidents and left their motorcycles as evidences were shot at after their families were tracked down. Such practice, aim to maintaining stability, ends up creating more instability. Local influential people also post a threat to villagers who disagree with government mega-projects in the area. These have created a factor for the expansion of violence.

Muslim extremist groups from outside the country

The Thai government insists that violence in the deep-south is a domestic problem that has no involvement of Muslim extremist groups abroad. Majority of analysts also view the root causes of insurgency activities in the area as a political and historical dispute that is different from the international Islamization movement.

However, more failure from the government side to stop the conflict provides more risk for such involvement. Information gathered by Indonesian and Malaysian agencies confirmed that different Ismlamic extremist groups had set up training camps within their countries and used them as a base to connect with terrorist groups in Pakistan and Afganistan.

People: Human rights and Justice

The fact that government agencies view justice as something that can be bought has created a much painful situation in the case of Takbai. Until now, none of those who committed such mistake have been punished except the Chief of the 4th Army Region who was a transfer to an inactive position Bangkok. Although the Army insisted that his punishment was considered severe, they failed to make the villagers understand its meaning. The court itself has put pressure on the villagers who filed a legal suit against the Army for compensation. Finally each of them received only 200,000 to 300,000 Baht, which was not enough even for their economic improvement. Trauma healing for the victims and their relatives will not happen if the issue justice is not properly dealt with.

Problem solving for the deep-south depends very much on the national politics. Security authorities have tried many ways to work on it. Methods using violence, development and different types of reforms have been applied but proved ineffective due to obstacles from the national politics. One example is the disagreement on the NRC proposal to use Melayu language as a working language in the area.

The national politics of Thailand functions under two directions which are political reform and the tendency to interrupt it. Such tendency includes the promotion of nationalism, the reconstruction of military dictatorship system that bring back military approach to the area. Activists working on the deep-south issue are often discouraged as a result.

The law will not help solving problems as long as there is no acceptance from national politics on the identities of the locals, on justice problems and on the need to provide political space for the locals such as university student to peacefully conduct their activities. If such opportunity does not exist, people might go underground to join with the insurgency. They might die but heaven is waiting.

Certainly some younger-generation military officers are interested in these matters and are studying it closely. However, changes cannot happen if new thinking in politics does not start. It is impossible to solve the deep-south problem if Thai politics still functions under two outdated systems which are military dictatorship and parliamentary dictatorship.

Lesson and Experiences of NGOs

Since the emergence of the new round of violence on 4 April 2004, which was five years ago, Most NGOs working on human security and human rights have conducted activities in response to immediate problems and tried to establish knowledge and understanding on the emerging situation rather than long-term planning.As the situation is unlikely to end in a short period of time, NGO works should focus more on long-term problem solving that takes participation by local people as an important factor.

As for environmental groups, lessons learned from their works indicate that the improvement of natural resources does not mean improvement to make them back to their historical stage. Since development projects have destroyed natural resources and people’s traditional way of life, rehabilitation should focus on the attempt to enable to live with damaged environment and resources and to live in a changing condition. Rehabilitation should also be a way to find alternatives for their livelihood while trying reduce or stop future destruction.

Human rights groups and groups working to end the violence can learn from the Human Rights Watch’s experiences on condemning human rights violation against innocent citizens by both Thai state and non-state groups. Human rights Watch also seriously insists on human rights principles in criticizing human rights violation from all parties.

Alternative media reflects efforts by different groups to produce media that reveals thoughts, ideas and approaches in solving the problems. It also gives space to different interpretations and explanations on the situation, and prevents a certain type of explanation to dominate. It helps making the society able to understand the situation in a broader context.

Majority of groups on the field have no experience on orgainsation work. They began to learn about the importance of group orgainsation and networking. It is essential to increase their skills on group management, coordinating with other organisations, fund raising, project drafting, data collecting and reporting.

Working in Violent Conflict Situation:Principles and Theories

Works in the southern border provinces are conducted in a violent conflict situation. We must ensure that our work will not worsen the existing conflict and violence. Working experiences in similar situation have been gathered and combined as working principles on the international level such as the Do No Harm principle.

Activists working in the south should understand that violent conflict has destroyed lives and development. Some groups of people utilize and encourage conflict for their own political and personal gain. Violent conflict usually creates a lawless situation which benefits those who manipulate it - be it power groups, local and national influential groups or transnational drivers of conflict such as illegal weapon traders, drug dealers and natural resources brokers.

A report submitted to the government by the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) provides a framework for conflict resolution based on human security, peace and reconciliation approaches that create justice. The report also emphasizes that there must be a recognition to results of violence that takes away the voice of the victims and prevent the society to understand its structural causes, injustice and disrespect to human dignity. This would lead to the society’s blindness to political solution.

The NRC submitted its report to the Thai state that, at the same time, acted as an agent to create and expand the conflict. However, the report received very little attention from the state and state apparatus. The possible way to push for these solutions is through the civil society sector. Civil society groups must play a role in promoting the NRC recommendations and to put pressure for the Thai state to solve the problems on the basis of knowledge, justice and respect to human rights, human dignity.

Concepts of violence and critical peace

Critical peace expert Johan Galtung has categorized violence into two types namely direct violence and structural violence. According to him, it is the structure, not individuals, which is the root cause of violence. Cultural violence is the thoughts or beliefs that justify different types of violence, and allow the society to accept them as something good. Structural violence or social injustice is usually a cause of obvious violence, while cultural violence acts as a legitimizing factor to it. Different levels of violence have their own complexity. For example, Structural violence comes from inequality in economic and social powers. At the same time, “culture” of each society is neither static nor unified.

Researches and studies around the world point at income gap or gap of wealth between the rich and the poor as a major factor of violence in the society. Apart from structural violence that needed to be seriously considered, critical peace also questions ideologies that support such structure.

If we want to solve the problem of violence and create peace in the society, we may have to pay attention to different levels of violence rather than only direct violence conducted by individuals. We have to question social injustice which is a cause of violence as well as to the beliefs and ideologies that allow direct and structural violence to exist. Critical peace thinks about a remedy for “the decease of violence” by taking a critical look into social injustice, culture and beliefs that legitimize such structure, and then, pushing the society to chose a peaceful, just and non-violent means.

The fact that different societies relate to and affect each other makes them multidimensional and complex. It is difficult to explain problems in a society by using only one phenomenon. Incidents occur in one place in the interrelated world may give major impacts on the other places. As a result, several outdated social institutions are unable to deal with the complex and difficult of the new situations.

In the interconnected world, conflict between the West and the Muslim World emerge as a major problem to international stability and security. The results of this conflict could affect national politics as well as relationships between citizens who have different religious and cultural backgrounds.

Although today’s problem of the deep-south have a root dated back to hundreds years in history, there has been a dramatic change in its context under the influence of globalization and Islamization.

The concept of human security

The Human Security Framework, which was ratified at the Millennium Summit in New York in September 2000 and was synchronized from the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen and the World Conference on Women in Beijing, identifies freedom, equality, solidarity and common responsibility as basic values important for international relations in the 21st Century.

Human security declared by the “United Nation Millennium Declaration” means freedom from hunger and from disrespect to human rights and human dignity. In the world closer linked by information system and technology, human security is threatened by several factors including conflict, decease, oppression, gender discrimination and poverty. These have caused a complex relationship between existing problems that affect each other in a fast and severe manner.

The old security framework can no longer respond to these problems. The outdated state security framework, which limits itself within state territory and attempts to increase state power and state security to maintain peace and stability, is nothing but a protection over state mechanisms itself. Such state security only relates to the people living within its territory in an indirect manner. Moreover, it sometimes posts a threat to people’s security. Human security should, therefore, be the goal of state security since the main objective of the state is to provide security to its citizens.

Human security means a protection over basic freedom which is the essence of life. It means protecting people from threats of a crisis that has a tendency to expand itself. It means the utilization of a process created from people’s strength and inspiration. It also means the creation of a political, social, environmental, economic and military system, which, altogether, builds a foundation for the survival of life and human dignity. Human security concept emphasizes more on the attention to individual and community than to the state. It includes threats to individual and community as well as conditions that are not categorized as a threat to state security. There are several actors within this concept rather than merely the state.

The success of human security does not only mean the ability to protect people, but also the ability to strengthen people’s power so that they can protect themselves.

Realization of a common humanity

The concept of cultural diversity accepts different forms of behaviors of people from different backgrounds. The factor that seems to divide people from each other comes from the creation of complex and rigid interpretation of rituals which makes people fail to understand that cultures are created by ever changing human beings and finally lose the essence of “common humanity”.

The method to solve problems of the deep-south was initially an effort to suppress and destroy other cultures. Later, after a lesson was learned, an awareness to respect other cultures and to recognize cultural diversity and justice for all has emerged. However, the more substantial concept, which should be recognized by every party, is the concept of “common humanity”. This has also posted a question whether each culture can develop such concept within itself.

Peace building approach in the southern border provinces

Violent conflict in the southern border provinces of Thailand is complex and characterized by the use of violence by the government, the opposition to the government who seek to end state oppression as well as by influential people involving in illegal businesses such as drug, weapon and human trades. One cause of the conflict comes from the fact that there are a number of people gaining interests from it. Violence will prolong in the area. Therefore, a peace process must be initiated by the civil society sector.

Although the state has tried to gain supports from people in the area, it still faces difficulties due to the lack of efficient law enforcement, justice and protection for innocent people. The use of violence may be able create fear among people, but it destroys legitimacy of those who use it. The state should be cautious not to spread anger among people as it might become a chain of hatred and vengefulness that drives people to hurt each other without reasons. Unfortunately, it has been insensitive and unable to realize such problems. It continues to use security reasons to expand power and increase budget in the area.

Conflict Prevention (CP)

Conflict in the deep-south will not end easily because several parties still benefit from the violence industry. To prevent further conflict, there is a need to create bargaining power to people living in the area in order to counter such influential groups. It is important that people can recognize changes and can adjust themselves accordingly. People must have power to properly manage their natural resources. Ordinary people must be given an opportunity to participate in every level of decision making.

Conflict prevention must pay attention to public’s knowledge and their understanding on the ground situation. This is to prevent them from supporting policies that might lead to more violence and allow the government to use force which will further deteriorate the situation. It is easy for humanity and justice to be destroyed in a war situation. The media is another group that activists working in conflict prevention must work with.

Conflict transformation

Conflict transformation in the southern border provinces must follow a direction that support people’s life security. In previous discussions with the locals, villagers view stability of mind and spiritual stability that existed within the principles of Islam, their own religion, as most important. The next important thing is the security of the natural resource upon which villagers live their economic and social life.

Conflict transformation may start positively by using humanity as a means to solve problems, creating relationships between people, emphasizing on horizontal relationships by helping victims of the situation, both from the government and people’s sides.


Peace activists must acquire knowledge on history of civil war in many countries in the past two decades and learn their lessons as well as lessons of the civil society sector in the situation.When a vast number of citizens suffer war and violence, there is a need for humanitarian intervention. But intervention by force needs to be considered with care on its levels, length of time. It also needs to consider what could guarantee sovereignty, and the quick return of peace for people who live in particular community or country after each intervention.

Experiences from many countries that have gone through an intervention by either UN Peace Keeping Forces or forces from the Superpower indicate a high level of natural resource exploitation. “Revolution is not for export”, which was a lesson learned from the Cold War, Vietnam War and recently Iraq War, is still a point to consider in the context of globalization and Islamization that is sensitive to problems.

Intervention that might benefit people in the country is an intervention to strengthen the people sector in order for them to protect their own community. Perhaps the people sector around the world has to work harder and seek for each other’s solidarity. World peace movement needs to work harder than campaign to end certain wars from time to time.


The new round of violence that has erupted in the past few years happen in a context that has been changed. The forms of violence are also different from what they used to be. Violence is now used against everybody regardless of their religious backgrounds. Civilians become the main target. It results in a destruction relationship between Buddhist and Muslim citizens as never before. Therefore, reconciliation movement in Thailand has begun before the conflict ends.

In the first stage of the conflict the government established a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) to help looking for a solution to the conflict in the confusing situation. There were active discussions on the issue of reconciliation. Several activities were identified as a part of the reconciliation process. Those were, the establishment of a horizontal relationship between people from different backgrounds, working within socio-cultural dimension to revive local relations and link up people in the area (mainly Muslims) and people in the rest of the country (Buddhists).


The expansion of authoritarianism is a worrisome phenomenon. Dr. Chaiwat Satha-anand, a Thai academic who has been working on peace issue, called the elected government under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawat , which received overwhelming votes, an authoritarian democracy. The government that seemed to be democratic and justified itself by the election process ended up using its power illegitimately. For example, the government initiated a “war on drug” policy that bypassed the judiciary system and pave ways for extra-judicial killings of drug suspects throughout the country. Its policy to counter “bandit terrorists” in the southern border provinces led to kidnapping and killings, giving an unlimited power to the police while many innocent people paid the price.

Authoritarian democracy did not end with the Thaksin regime. When the military staged a coup d’ tat in 2006, after 15 years without it, the cloak of democracy was torn apart, leaving Thailand with pure authoritarianism. Later, with an attempt to create a new gown of democracy through a new election, state authority over south Thailand was transferred from the police to the military.

As a “developing country”, Thailand’s nominee democracy is controlled by money, power and influences. Government policies have also been manipulated by the rich countries. Thus, there is still a long way to go before Thailand gains the type of democracy that reflects the needs of the majority.

Public opinions are also controlled by the directly and indirectly control of the media. Television, in particular, which is able to report news and images faster, still lacks details and analysis. The early stage of the conflict, television coverage on the violence in the area only reported hatred and fear the same way the 9/11 incident was reported. This has tempted the public to support the use of forces without rational thinking.

What is the spirit or substance of democracy? People organizations and NGOs have been trying to promote democracy that is eatable, or democracy that solves people’s economic problems. They also promote natural resource management by the community or community rights, equal access to natural resources for the poor, freedom from being taken advantage of by the Free Market System, freedom to maintain their natural resources without by exploited by the local, national and international capitals, and the rights for information and expression.

A movement of the people sector is an important element of direct democracy and participatory democracy. Only substantial democracy movement can solve the existing complicated problems of the present day.

Ground dynamics

- Condemnation on violence conducted by both state apparatus and non state agents and destroys lives of the innocent is a necessary measure to protect human rights.

- Ineffective and brutal government forces on the ground are still the main factor in the expanding of violence and the violation of human rights.

- There is an attempt within the professional military circle to apply political means over security. They are also interested in the issue of human rights.

- Human rights groups must increase their credibility and must recognize cooperation between human rights and social works. They must also increase efforts to work with the healing groups.

- The judiciary system is still trapped within bureaucracy and unable to deliver justice and credibility to people.

- Peace in the framework of critical peace does not only mean a ceasefire, it also means solving the root causes of violent conflicts.

- The fact that the state tends to pour money and forces into the area, and creates several mega projects to raise more budget, will put civil servants against the people in the name of development. For example, there is now an attempt to reinstate the Sai Buri Dam Project, which was strongly protested against by villagers living in the project area about ten years ago. Some civil servants cooperated with influential sub-district heads in threatening villagers to prevent their further protesting.

- An establishment of a space to scrutinize public policies and budget allocation is a way to create peace because it helps prevent the extension of violence industry.

- The work to strengthen people in the community must be based on the principles of freedom, equality, solidarity, reconciliation and joint-responsibility.

- Women’s role in peace building in the area has become more important after the street block incidents led by women and children during 2006 and 2007.

- Youth groups have gown and been better organized since the demonstration at the Central Mosque in 2007 and the closure of the Prince of Songkhla’s Pattani Campus to demand for a 5-day Hari Raya holidays in 2008.

- Healing groups have developed to be a better-organized-cooperation with the state and NGOs.

- Health care system that responds to Islamic principles is welcome by people in the area.

- Local people are willing to cooperate with education management that responds to Islamic principles.

Paradigm shift

Superpower leaders are quick to point at terrorism as a threat to the world. But many studies argue that terrorism is only a minor threat against humanity compared to the others.

The root causes of conflicts and instability that indicate future conflicts are:

  1. Climate change

  2. Competition over resources

  3. Marginalization of the majority world

  4. 4. Global millitarisation

The existing security policies in the world are nothing but a future threat to themselves. There is a need for a “sustainable security paradigm” that does not emphasize only on the termination of threats (to stop the symptom) by force, but also aims at solving the root cause of those threats. This can be done by using the most effective tool (to cure the decease) which is to link the issues of peace, development and environment more than it has even been done before. Lessons learned from five years of work to eliminate violence in the southern border provinces have proved to us that the “controlled-security paradigm” has failed to create peace. Instead, it has led to a more expansion of violence. The “sustainable-security paradigm” will give an opportunity to very sector of the society to look for more alternatives to deal with different types of threats.

As mentioned earlier, problems of the southern border provinces are complex and full of related factors. They have several root causes instead of one. Any attempt to generalize those problems as security problems using the old way of thinking will not help solving them. As the problems are prolonged, there is a need to find a long-term solution to them. The state and people are facing several challenges. International factor is another related factor to the problems. It is important to seek for cooperation with the international community.

Killings, destruction, threats and arresting have created deep-rooted hatred, fear and vengeful sentiment in the society. Although reconciliation cannot be easily done, it seems to be the only solution to the problems. The creation of trust, respect to human rights and justice as well as rules of law are crucial for future reconciliation approach.

Strategy to promote of human security in the southern border provinces: freedom from fear and want

  1. Transform the concepts of the rights to human security and critical peace into practical works. The creation of social awareness, education and development on the concepts can be done without much difficulty because basic needs among people on the ground already exist.

  2. Support people’s group activities such as healing, humanitarian, charity, rights or environmental groups. The grouping of people must be diverse and must go beyond community, religion, culture and status. This is to do away the situation in which people fall victims to violence, and to encourage them to look for economic, political and cultural solutions together.

  3. Promote the idea of public space as a space to seek for solution to public problems. Those problems are such as the issues of education management that responds to people’s way of life and social change. Such public space will give an opportunity to different groups of people in the area to express their thoughts. It will help people to learn and solve their problems together such as to campaign for student scholarship, to solve malnutrition problems in children, to seek help for orphans and abandoned children.

  4. Support women, youth and elderly groups in order for them to gain economic, social and political space.

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