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Muslim Insurgents Create a Bloody Ramadan for Thailand’s Deep South

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PATTIANI – When Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) insurgents detonated a motorcycle bomb at the crowded Bor Thong Market in Thailand’s Pattani province on May 27, they could have foreseen there would be many civilian casualties. But that did not stop them.

The bomb, apparently meant to attack Thai security forces guarding the market, killed two civilians, including a 14-year-old boy, and wounded 18 others. Most of the victims were ethnic Malay Muslims buying food to break their Ramadan fast.

Unlawfully indiscriminate bombings and targeted killings of civilians have been a BRN trademark since they began their armed insurgency in January 2004.


Thai security forces inspects the scene of a bomb attack at a market in Pattani province on May 27, 2019. ©2019 Khaosod English

The military stepped up security for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan in Thailand’s three southern border provinces, but this did not appear to make an appreciable difference on insurgent attacks. Human Rights Watch documented 21 attacks between May 6 and June 5, including bomb attacks and shootings that killed and wounded ethnic Thai Buddhists and ethnic Malay Muslims in Songkhla, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat provinces. The BRN also targeted ethnic Malay Muslims it accused of being traitors for working with Thai authorities or supporting a peace dialogue with the government.

BRN insurgents, guided by a combination of militant Malay nationalism and Islamist ideologies, seek to liberate Patani Darulsalam (Islamic Land of Patani) from what they contend is a Thai Buddhist occupation. Their violent campaign aims to drive out ethnic Thai Buddhists, discredit Thai authorities, and control the ethnic Malay Muslim population.

Security forces keeps watch as Thai Muslim men offer prayers during a peace gathering at a hospital from where suspected separatist militants launched an ambush on the offices of the Cho Ai Rong district in Thailand’s restive southern province of Narathiwat.

The BRN has repeatedly used tactics that are not only unlawful under international law, but are abhorrent and unjustifiable. The laws of war, applicable in southern Thailand, prohibit attacks that do not discriminate between military targets and civilians, as well as other common BRN tactics such as the killing of civilians and captured combatants, mutilation or other mistreatment of the dead, and attacks directed at schools and hospitals.

Thai security forces have also committed serious abuses. Their extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture of suspected insurgents are reinforced by the government’s failure to prosecute any security personnel responsible.

The BRN should cease deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. And the Thai government should fully prosecute abusive security personnel, regardless of rank. Only then will civilians in Thailand’s deep south escape the violence that has marked this Ramadan with bullets and bombs.

By Sunai Phasuk
Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch