Thailand: Muslim separatists agree to work on a plan to end decades-long violence

Thailand: Muslim separatists agree to work on a plan to end decades-long violence
Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, Malaysia's facilitator of peace talks for southern Thailand, speaks at a press conference with Chatchai Bangchaud from the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand, and Ustaz Anas Abdulrahman from Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by Vincent Thian, via AP Photo, 7th February 2024


Nuno Daun

Southeast Asia & Pacific Team 

Global Human Rights Defense


The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) are a separatist Muslim group in south Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country. The BRN is currently the country’s largest insurgent group. It came to prominent attention once again in 2001 when they started their political activist movement by recruiting members in their local mosques as an attempt of indoctrinating students at Islamic schools. Their main objective is to gain the independence of the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, which were annexed in 1909 by the Kingdom of Siam. The BRN has continued to claim that these regions are a result of colonialism.

As an attempt to further their agenda, BRN began training militants and has allegedly been involved in a series of attacks since 2004. Although, unlike other militant groups, BRN does not confirm or deny its involvement in specific attacks, with one of its spokesperson claiming that they do not “venture outside their region [Southern Thailand].” 

Ongoing conflict

The Thai military forces and the BRN have been involved in a series of conflicts. In 2019, Abdullah Isamusa, a 32-year-old BRN militant was arrested and beaten so severely that he fell into a coma, the Thai military responded by stating that there is no proof of torture. Also in 2019, the BRN met with Thai government officials as a means of commencing peace talks. However, the meeting ended in a stalemate. 

On the 7th of February 2024, representatives of the BRN and of the South Thai government met in Kuala Lumpur to roadmap a plan to end the decades-long conflict. The Malaysian facilitator of peace talks present at the meeting stated that both sides have agreed to an “improved” peace plan. Over the next two months, both sides are set to meet to iron out the details of the peace plan. One of the goals they hope to achieve is a ceasefire spanning Ramadan which begins on the 10th of March, as well as the Thai festival of Songkran which takes place in the middle of April. 

To date, this is the first peace-talk that shows any promise whatsoever. Since 2004, more than 7,000 people have died in the conflict, mostly ethnic Malay Muslims. 

The fighting in the southern regions has taken many forms, from drive-by shootings to bombings. Many Malay Muslims, who are ethnically, culturally and linguistically different from the rest of the nation, claim to be treated as second-class citizens, having accused the Thai security forces of carrying out extrajudicial killings, harassment and prolonged arbitrary detentions. 

Anas Abdulrahman, head of the BRN, stated that he has high hopes for a lasting peaceful resolution. The Thai government appointed Chatchai Bangchuad, who is the first civilian to engage in talks. He has stated that the signing of any peace plan will be dependent on the outcome of the negotiations. 

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