The Ramadan truce between the Thai government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the largest and most influential of the separatist insurgencies in Patani, came to an end on May 14th. The ceasefire was a silver lining in one of Southeast Asia’s longest-standing armed conflicts, which has killed 7,300 people since 2004. But it has yet to be seen whether this will lead to a permanent ceasefire moving forward. And the question remains: What’s next for Southern Thailand?

Tensions in Thailand’s deep south can be attributed to Thailand’s Buddhist-majority attempting to assimilate the Muslim-majority southern provinces. As the United States Peace Institute explains, “many in [Patani] hold that the region belongs to the Malay people and that the community has a moral obligation to liberate it from invading Thai forces.” Resultingly, separatist groups such as the BRN, with the ideological backbone of “anticolonialism and anticapitalism, Islamic socialism, and Malay nationalism” have called for Patani’s secession from the Thai state through the unification of southern Muslim provinces. The conflict dates back to the 1960s but saw renewed violence sparked by insurgents raiding a Thai army depot in Narathiwat in 2004.

The next round of peace talks is scheduled to take place between June and August, but additional ceasefires are unlikely to bring long-term peace to the region. Indeed, from the BRN perspective, the ceasefire was a “confidence-building measure,” as evidenced by the BRN agreeing to stop their violent attacks in exchange for the Thai government halting raids and arrests of suspected insurgency members. Additionally, BRN members were allowed to visit family members in Malaysia and freely return to Thailand without fearing arrest. Not to mention the BRN negotiating team included Deng Awaeji, a representative from the BRN’s fighting wing for the first time. But there remain three hurdles to long-term peace: the notable exclusion of the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) from the negotiating table, the increased radicalization of the younger generation of insurgency fighters, and the feasibility of insurgency groups conceding demands for a successionist state in the south.

PULO’s absence from the negotiating table became increasingly evident when Kasturi Mahkota, PULO’s president, said PULO would continue its operations as usual during the ceasefire period. Although the BRN stopped their attacks during the truce, PULO unleashed a bombing that killed a villager and injured three police officers. Even if the BRN agreed to a long-term ceasefire, how can one expect peace if PULO continues unleashing attacks? And what is to stop disgruntled BRN fighters from joining PULO? After all, both organizations share the goal of Patani’s seccession from Thailand.

Next, one must also consider the radicalization of younger fighters. Some, such as Panitan Wattanayagorn, an adviser to Thailand’s National Security Council, suggest the insurgency group’s younger fighters are more willing to die in combat. For example, of the approximately 60 BRN operatives killed over the past two years, only one was willing to surrender instead of fighting to the death. Such radicalization among the BRN’s violent factions may further pose a challenge for long-term peace.

Finally, some observers suggest the BRN may be willing to concede their demands for independence, a non-starter for Thai authorities, if they seek a permanent truce. But one should ask whether such a compromise would be welcomed by radical factions of the BRN. As Thailand-based security analyst Don Pathan explains, “a splinter group could be in the pipeline” if the BRN were to come to a political compromise.

There is certainly hope for Southern Thailand’s future. Generally speaking, violence in the region is on the decline and the BRN’s presence at the negotiating table is the first of many steps toward long-term peace and stability. That said, without PULO agreeing to a ceasefire, it is doubtful that peace in Southern Thailand can be achieved. Thus, PULO and other insurgency groups must be included in future talks if the ultimate goal is peace. Nonetheless, the Ramadan truce marks a significant step toward resolving the decades-old conflict.


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