Southern Thailand On Fire

Southern Thailand has always been a favorite holiday getaway for Malaysians in search for good food, value-for-money shopping, and sometimes instant-love. Since January 2004, the Malaysian arrivals in Southern Thailand have slipped sharply. Today, hotels in Hat Yai, Thailand’s southern commercial capital, are almost empty of Malaysian tourists.

Reason: On Jan 4, 2004, a dozen religious fundamentalists raided a Thai armory, killed four Thai soldiers and torched 18 schools. That event marked the beginning of the Southern Fire (Fai Dtai ไฟใต้ ) , which to date, resulted in more than 1,000 people losing their lives. Why are innocent civilians and even Buddhist monks losing their lives?

I have always been very comfortable traveling in Southern Thailand, especially Hat Yai and Songkhla. Being able to speak Thai, I would always arranged for a rented-vehicle and a driver to move around the south.

I love visiting all the Buddhist Temples in Southern Thailand, such as the Wat Phra Phom, Wat Matchimawat, Wat Chiang Hai, Wat Hat Yai Nai and the Shrine of Chao Meh Lim Ko Neo. My last trip to Southern Thailand was in December 2003, and since then, I have not make a return visit. It is now almost too dangerous be an independent traveler in Southern Thailand.

I am shocked to read the latest accounts of last week’s brutal murder! I am surprised how two Thai Marines, Sub-Lieutenant Winai Nagabutr and Petty Officer Kamthorn Thong-iad, were brutally stabbed by masked men and ordinary villagers at Narathiwat’s Ban Tanyonglimo (Kampung Tanjung Lima).

What have driven ordinary Thai Muslims to have such strong hatred with their Thai Buddhist counterparts? Is this the work of a select few fundamentalist groups who have totally brain-washed the Thai Muslims? I am shocked to read the developments of terrorist groups in Southern Thailand. It is most frightening where religion is sometimes distorted to serve an invalid cause.

The majority of Thai Muslims are proud to be Thai. I recalled speaking to an elderly Southern Thai Muslim in early 1996. He said, ‘Thailand is our heart and soul. I am a Thai first, and a Muslim second. I am most proud that both my son and grandsons are in the army serving His Majesty King Bhumipol.’

What happened to people like this elderly Thai Muslim gentleman? I am sure the majority of Thai Muslims bear no hatred to the Thai Kingdom. They have utmost love and respect for King Bhumipol Adulyadej, Queen Sirikit and Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who all make regular visits to the southern provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala.

In fact, the royal family’s palace, the Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace is located in the deep south of Narathiwat. Their Majesties have spearheaded numerous economic projects to boost economic growth in the south. The Southern Fire has saddened Their Majesties that they have repeatedly called for reconciliation among the Southerners.

Historically, there is little argument or basis over Southern Thailand’s self-rule or independence. Since the early 18th century, Southern Thailand has been in firmed control from Bangkok. Unlike the Malay States of Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis; Patanni, Yala and Narathiwat do not have their own Malay Sultanates in the 19th century — these provinces are controlled directly via governors sent by Bangkok.

I may not be the right person to comment on Southern Thai politics, as I am not a Thai by citizenship, but I would like to highlight my thoughts as a student of Thai History. Having researched clearly on Southern Thailand, there is no question of Thai suzerainty. Even international documents of the 19th century such as the Original Correspondence of the Far Eastern Department, Straits Settlements Original Correspondence, and the Dispatches from United States Ministers to Siam and others, have all proclaimed Siam’s suzerainty in Southern Thailand.

The current Southern Fire should not be a question of political suzerainty, but how Bangkok can win the hearts and souls of the Southern Thai Muslims. Without doubt, it is time for Bangkok to come down hard on the troublemakers, but it should do this without alienating the majority of Muslim citizens.

As days becomes months and now even years, the economic conditions of Southern Thailand have worsens considerably. These days, both Thai Buddhists and Thai Muslims cannot even walk out of their homes without worrying for their lives. Are the Southern Thais paying too-high-a-price for the Southern Fire? When can peace and tranquility return to South Thailand?

21 responses to “Southern Thailand On Fire

  1. You know, I have been reading your blog since it’s start. I know you have a love for Thailand, and that it is genuine, but really consider how it is looking man. Maybe you typed in a small hurry, and didn’t have time.

    Malaysian siding with Thailand, yet failing to point many facts out. That is would be like WWII and Japan siding with the USA and their cause, while still sending their kamikaze pilots over.

    I understand one major valid point, and that is who does the land belong to. My watch says it is 09/24/2005, I say Thailand. It may have once belonged to so and so, but that is the past, get over it right? Thailand has done MUCH good for these people, yet the want it all.

    Is Thailand wrong? Look at some other nations, what would they do? The national scene was much different 500-700 years ago. What would happen if Italy started to attack Germany because ‘at one point’ Germany was run by Rome. That is just stupid sounding don’t you think?

    When will it end? When they realize it is 2005 not 1822.

    When will it end? Well Thaksin has lifted his ‘Iron Fist’ considerably the past 6-8 months. The result? The two marines lives lost in an attrocious manner that Hitler would be proud of. So much for showing who had the patience, and who has the desire to kill.

    Thaksin is now ready to FORCE the law on them. It is about time, yes more blood is likely. Why? Because they are not obeying the law. If they would simply obey the law there would be nothing to force on anyone.

    Great writings though especially for non-native English! Keep up the great work

  2. Wow that sounded like I disliked you.

    I honestly am a fan of your blog from Google. I guess the whole subject just makes me angry due to my Italy, Germany rationalization.

    I did mean it when I said keep up the work. I also enjoyed reading the above blog. It is well written. Just my opinion caught me off guard again before I realized I had pressed Send Comment.

  3. I have to agreee with Stacker. PM Taksin has been way to patient in his ‘hearts and minds’ campaign.

    Unfortunately we Americans also tried this same campaign twice before in Vietnam and now again in Irag and both times it has been a complete failure. You cannot argue with radical fundamentalism and religious zealotry. To perservelaw and order the military has to move in swiftly and take complete control but do it humanely and without prejudice.

    Once they are in control then find the believers and leaders in Islam that follow the true beliefs and not this violent, bloody self annilation and do everything you can to put them in power over all muslims in south Thailand.

    After they are in power or at least lead the people by their spiritual guidance away from violence so that their word is law and not some militant faction advocating this violence then the military should move back out. This will send a clear message that –

    1. Thailand will not tolerate any violence, especially killing, and disregard for the law.

    2. Thai muslims will remain muslims, not forced to become more Thai. They should be allowed to be who their culture dictates as long as they obey the laws of the land that are fair and non biased as they have been. If they cannot do this then they must leave Thailand. No exceptions.

    It’s a very hard line to draw and there will be more blood in the streets but it’s the only way. Thailand has to take the stand that this is our land and violence, terror and killing will never be tolerated on Thai soil by anyone.

    What binds American hands to do this same thing in Irag is that thanks to George Bush we side stepped international law to invade a soverign nation and we can’t just take over like I am suggesting without the international community even more up in arms against us.

    However the Thai government does not have that limitation. This is about defending their own people on their own land. I don’t see any other choice for south Thailand now that the fanatics have so deeply, like wild animals, tasted blood.


  4. This post will be much shorter than my other.
    I agree, but you probably could tell.
    “What binds American hands…”

    Thailand is very much the opposite. When the murders of the two marines were being committed, the local villagers (not the known extremists, but real life citizens) physically blocked police and military from the rescue operation.

    This is blatent anarchy and intentional disobedience of federal laws, dare I say treason?

    The Thai military has not even begun to show what an “iron fist” is yet. If they are wise, they will act as quickly as Thaksin is promising. Or they will end up another Vietnam, Iraq, Pakistan and Ireland.

    There are times when TOTAL control is required to save ourselves from self destruction.

  5. Dear Kitjar,
    Yesterday I was in a seminar with a group of vocational college staff from Narathiwat…later I am going to the wedding lunch of the son of a muslim leader…next week I may have to fly to Bangkok thru’ Hatyai airport, 3 hours drive from here…I mean, living and working in Southern Thailand, I have always been hoping for peace…however…

    Regarding Southern Thailand problems..I can only say that, often what we see is not what is true, what is true may not be simply disclosed! 🙂

    Your article is a little heavy for me in this beautiful Sunday morning, I ‘d better go. Bye! Cheers!

  6. Wadee wadee,

    I did not expect such a passionate response as this:-

    Stacker: I wonder which blog are you referring to, LOL. By the way, my native language is English, that means, I am poor in my English writing skills…. urgh. Interestingly, Malaysians speak a variety of languages, English, Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin and for me Thai. Don’t worry, I am not angry with your comments. BUt I have to look at this issue from a Malaysian standpoint.

    I think most Thais and Thai observers are unaware that the Malaysian State, Kelantan, which borders Narathiwat is actually under the PAS opposition government. Thus, the Kuala Lumpur government has little to do with the people-to-people contact in the state.

    Kuala Lumpur has taken a very strong stand on issues such as dual nationality, terrorism etc etc, but sometimes, on grass-roots levels, things might be slightly different.

    Wit: Hey, I have not been in touch with you for ages. How are you? Drop me an email sometime.

    Winning the hearts and soul of the people is not easy. The Malaysian Government had a hard time winning the hearts and soul during the communist insurgency from 1948-1960. Today, tactics have changed…. Nayok Thaksin has to win the hearts and souls of the Southern Thais, that is the only way forward.

    ST Lee; You are right! Staying in Betong, you have a better view of SOuthern Thailand, than me here in Kuala Lumpur.. I just miss my holidays in Southern Thailand…..

  7. One big problem is the enormous global support of ‘like-minded’ people that will fuel the inusrgents. It is happening in every other part of the world and there is a lot of money & propoganda flowing. Unfortunately, the islamic world takes its misfortunes very very seriously. For instance, in India, almost everyone of us has something to grudge against the government, legal system, corruption, discrimination … but not everyone reaches for the kill. But the islamic community seems to be quick on the trigger. And I suspect its not because the common muslim is like that ( but there is enormous motivation & fuel available from across the borders & the globe and they also fall into a ‘social spin’). And then of course, the administration will makes its own mistakes in trying to control all this and the circle will continue spinning and becoming bigger and bigger. Until we reach a point not understanding how and where it all began.

  8. Thai Government is tolerant of Muslim Thais as evident by them keeping their Muslim names. Chinese Thais have to take up Thai names. Southern Thais cannot be poorer than Isan Thais since they have richer Malaysia as neighbor while Isan Thai have poorer Laos as neighbor.
    Our westerner Bloggers have to understand that as Malaysians we cannot afford to be too open with our views.

    Kitjar, Haadyai is safe. My wife and her friends are there over the weekends. We should go there together one day. I drive.

    ST, I have driven from Betong to Haadyai before and the road was under construction then. With the problem now, I would not dare to drive from Betong to Haadyai. May be saver to drive to Penang & fly PEN-BKK. Take care.

  9. Trangam – Can’t comment on religious issues in Southern Thailand. I still feel winning the hearts and souls is still the main way to ensure peace in Southern Thailand.

    Khun Chin — I am taking up your offer to drive to Hat Yai? When are you free? We can ask Chokechai, CHuan and Yee….

    Btw, I met a Thai Muslim last thursday, he has a Thai name, that bears no resemblance to a Muslime name

  10. To Wit:

    ‘Unfortunately we Americans also tried this same campaign twice before in Vietnam and now again in Irag and both times it has been a complete failure.”

    Let me first say, you do not speak for all of us Americans. In my own opinion, in the above two examples, we unfortunately attempted to take a compassionate approach to try to help people out of oppression.

    Now, Thais are seeing the truth about radical Islam, something we are trying to stop in Iraq. Any soft-handed approach will not work with these people. I agree with the heavy-handed approaches mentioned by some bloggers.

    The truth about radical Islam is that they want their own Empire. Al Qaeda was supposed to be the base of the Empire in Afghanistan. This is opposite from everything many have heard about the US wanting a worldwide empire. We do not want it. In fact, we would like to close our borders to immigration and pull our troops back from all the various outposts and let these countries defend themselves, including Isreal and South Korea. But the fact about that is there is too much money to be made on all sides for any of that to happen. And we the US people can hardly do anything about it. But, we are proud that the US has taken some strong stance against the death cult of radical Islam.

    The US is in Iraq to create a democracy among the surrounding dictatorships and theocracies. Yes, money is the name of the game, but who desires to be poor? Being poor is no sin, but it is no great honor either. You want to say the US is in Iraq for oil, well so what? If we truly wanted to take it, don’t you think we would have done it already? We are trying to plant seeds of market captialism there so people can get out of poverty.

    Poverty is the reason the radical Islam spreads. Notice in the world where all the Islamic conflicts are – poor countries. Also, notice that most all wars in the world are being fought by the muslims against someone – Chechnya: Muslims against communists; Bosnia: Muslims against Christians: Iraq now: muslims against muslims; Thailand: muslims agains buddhists; India: muslims against hindus and sikhs. Where does it end for these muslims? they are fighting everyone. It is their world war for an Empire.

    My wife is Thai, buddhist. The Thai people are some of the most friendly and sweet people on the earth. there is no valid reason the muslims should be attacking them. they attack to take land and to take govt away from a kind people. i see so much good progress in thailand in terms of infrastructure, economics, political stability.

    Pls leave the US out of the Thai problems. The US did not create unrest among thai muslims. The muslim leaders are doing this around the world. those muslim leaders who do not denounce violence are part of the problem themselves.

  11. saltalamo,

    as a Buddhist, I do not see any relevance of bringing the issue of Islam into the picture… Islam is a religion of peace… Do not misconstrue the Islamic religion just because a handful of terrorists are Muslims….

    There is no such things as an Islamic Terrorist, they are just terrorist… that’s all, when we put labels to terrorists, it SHOULD NOT be religion

    Islam talks about PEACE, and it should stay that way … a majority of Thai Muslims are all for peace, and not war

  12. This religion is a problem all over the world

  13. I agree with Paul_Au.

    Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg said, ” with or without religion,
    good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for
    good people to do evil; – that takes religion.”

  14. To Saltalamo19 –

    First of all I did not, as you say, attempt to speak for all Americans. Your looking at my comments in the wrong context. What I said was merely repeating facts about our own history in two very messy conflicts where we royally got our asses kicked. Vietnam then and Irag now are both violent political disaters that we were then and are now hopelessly stuck in. The Vietnamese at least I admire because they were fighting to save their own country to be free and independent not pursue a radical movement of insurgency. Even though you could say North Vietnam was fighting to follow Communism (a type of insurgency) while South Vietnam was fighting for a chance at Democracy. Communism then being the politcal ‘radical Islam’ of the Cold War.

    You seem to get the idea that I am suggesting the US get involved in the situation in South Thailand. I never suggested that and in fact I say quite the opposite! My comments were what the Thai Government should do there to quell the situation which they can do quite well without US help. We have enough on our plate to completely muck up with getting involved there too.

    The middle of your comments makes some sense that this is all one big money game for the US especially under the Bush, or the real power in the White House, Cheney administration. However you seem to admire that we champion bringing market capitalism to the world.

    As a Buddhist I strongly disagree with this because living in America I see the end result of market capitalism daily where it is steadly rotting out all other values. Look at the looting and anarchy in New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina! Don’t tell me that this is a good thing market capitalism is doing for us when we Americans, who are supposed to be the model for the world, will use any excuse to accumulate for ever more material goods and wealth. What good is this that we so easily cast aside human dignity for a booted pair of Nikes or a new color TV! Screw capitalism I say you can’t take it with you when you die now can you?

    As a Buddhist I see the suffering this ‘attachment’ brings. We certainly don’t need to teach these ‘values’ to other countries. Many of these poorer countries, like Thailand, may be poor in financial status or materialism but have a wealth beyond compare in human values.

    In my humble opinion we Americans could learn a lot from them not the other way around like American arrogance tends to believe. You won’t like these comments but it’s true, the American Way is NOT the best way or even a good way of life sometimes but we are so blind to see that and then we go mucking about in other countries affairs likewe know what we are doing.

    This is most certainly a complicated issue that will take much time and trial, blood and sacrfice to end, if it ever will. The Thai Government knows what to do and they should move quickly. Use the iron fist to quell the insurgents but do so at the guidance of HM the King. King Rama IX kept Thailand a free country for the last 60 years through two major conflicts that sought to divide and conquer Thailand and never once did have to resort to heavy handed military action. In fact for most of Thai post WW II history the military under several leaders was against him! King Rama has done much to welcome the Thai muslims to be part of the wealth of Thai land and it’s people. PM Taksin would do well to pursue the Kings advice in this matter.

    It’s an overly simplistic belief but it makes sense. In short don’t hide behind a religious teaching to commit atrocities whether your Muslim, Christian or Jewish. Be accountable for your own actions. You break the law that is fair and just then be prepared to have the law come down on you. It’s that simple.

    I’m not against Muslims but I am against anyone who uses terrorism or intimidation to suit the wants of a small minority against the greater majority. My previous comments are still what I believe the Thais should do.

    If true Islam is a religion of peace then support the leaders of Islam that teach this and not the ones that advocate murder. You take a life or disrupt the social order that has only been fair and welcoming to you then prepare for the consequences against you.

    Nuff said.


  15. Good point Khun Chin. To paraphrase John Lennon imagine a world with no religion, nothing to kill or die for.

    If only it was that simple. Just imagine.


  16. You say it is not a religion as a whole, and there are good muslims blah blah.

    There are good people as a whole. But it is a muslim issue. This is the (apparently weaker in religious values) to be so accepting of such radical views. The good muslims defend the bad extremists and justify their acts. No not on television, or in the media, but rather they do this by making their financial donations to the cause, hiding conspirators, and the latest? Ohh yes they (the good nuetral muslim citizens) blocked the other police and soldiers from making their rescue of these two men. So in effect these ‘good ones’ murdered these men just as much as the one’s who beat them to death.

    We all want to be politically correct and not say muslim radicals, muslim issues, muslim this and muslim that. But it is MUSLIM. That simple.

    Wit I love the idea of the imagine song, but say that to Buddists, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Amish people who do not raise a fist or gun to anyone. The most peaceful of religions should not have to suffer for the mistakes of a single group.

    Notice the list above of who all the Muslims have been fighting against in the past decade! I never looked back like that, but it is sick. Nobody else can see a trend?

    “Chechnya: Muslims against communists; Bosnia: Muslims against Christians: Iraq now: muslims against muslims; Thailand: muslims agains buddhists; India: muslims against hindus and sikhs. Where does it end for these muslims? they are fighting everyone. It is their world war for an Empire.”

    So true.
    Other than the comment that sparked this out of me I agree with everything else said, even including the stuff about my own country America being stuck due to government trying create a better worldwide economy. Not something I care for either, but this is part of globalization.

  17. I might be dead wrong, but wouldn’t regional autonomy improve the situation? especially, schooling in their native language(s), and learning Thai only as a second language (and culture). more independence in cultural issues and regional projects. it works in many places all over the world. it seems to me that the decades of forcing (central) Thai culture on the diverse population is striking back. as far as I see, the use of force will further alienate those layers of society who are originally not so hard-line but can easily be influenced by extremists. (I’m not talking about being lenient with armed extremists though.) peaceful negotiations should start before the entire region is completely in flames and a whole generation on both sides is poisoned and bittered by their losses and grievances (e.g. Northern Ireland and Palestine).
    but I’m just a complete outsider asking stupid questions, I guess….

  18. Betti, your comments are very welcome. I am stepping out of the discussion opinion-wise. But I would like to say that it is comments like yours Betti (from outsiders) that make the world think and improve upon what problems we do have.

    The blog I was talking about was the same one from the trackback. I have been reading it since the 3rd post. I really enjoy your writing, well most of it anyway. Alot of gay hype on there in the past, but I like the direction you have been taking it lately. I only hope you don’t get yourself into trouble with it. How do they say in Malaysia… Your “freedom of speech is there but it is subjective”?

    Be careful but try too to keep up the great work. Blogs are how we get the REAL NEWS!

  19. Geez, this blog certainly pumped out a lotta views, good stuff.

    I dont wish to delve into the matter too much as it is a ‘very’ deeply engrained problem and not one that has suddenly arisen since the War on Iraq etc..

    The govt admits that for decades the Muslims of the deep south were treated as second class citizens and because of blatant corruption etc… within the governement bureaus in power. This was the heart of the problem.

    Secondly, Thai Army intelligence had known for decades too that the Malaysian Govt financially supported PULO (Pattani United Liberation Oraganization).

    Since the birth of Al-Qaeda a flurry of other Islamic groups have prospered with the assistance of foreign sponsers.

    The Muslims of the south are still fuming cause of the Tak Bai Mosque incident and especially after 70 odd teenagers were stacked on top of an army truck and smothered to death.

    Unfortunately, the govt has never once regretted the incidents and no official apology has been offered.

    We have seen the media, govt and public up in arms for the past few days after two soldiers were killed in cold blood in some village in Narathiwat. Here is where many of the problems arise from. The people of the deep south ‘did not’ witness the nation ‘up in arms’ when 70 of their children perished for no reason.

    I don no symapthize for any terrorists in the south neither and even though i dont agree with a lot of what the PM has to say, i do agree with his policy avoer the weekend which called out for those troublemakers holding dual nationility to choose whether to officially reside in Thailand or Malaysia.

    The govt and army and min of defense has made a few cock-ups down south but on the other hand they are trying too, its very much 50-50.

    Most of the Islamic troublemakers down south have failed too to reailize that there are a lot worse places to live than Thailand.

    As for ‘stevesuphan’ policy on solving the unrest i propose that all the teenagers be given each a computer with full-time free ‘online’ game access, let them all go race their bikes like mad monkeys and set up a flurry of bars. Within no-time, they’d have lost interest in radicalism and ejoy instead a bitta capitalism. Human Nature>

  20. Steve I love your last paragraph!!!


    “As for ‘stevesuphan’ policy on solving the unrest i propose that all the teenagers be given each a computer with full-time free ‘online’ game access, let them all go race their bikes like mad monkeys and set up a flurry of bars. Within no-time, they’d have lost interest in radicalism and ejoy instead a bitta capitalism. Human Nature>”

    Very well said.

  21. Yes, I agree with the steve’s racing idea too! I discovered it 6 months back and got so mad trying to finish them, that I realised it was eating my hours like nothing else!! So, I promptly (just last week) packed all of them up and gifted them to my brother who is sitting in the border in the Himalayas, where he is nothing much else to do, but duck once in a while, when a gunfire is heard!!