Deadly attacks which killed one and injured eight were condemned by the government as an ‘outrage’ but are believed to have been a response to a lack of progress at peace talks being facilitated by Malaysia where the parties last came to gather on August 1st and 2nd in Kuala Lumpur. It is understood the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) want to see more ambitious progress and legal immunity for exiled leaders to return.
This month’s coordinated firebomb attacks in the Southern provinces of Thailand which saw 17 different locations targeted at the same time in the early hours of August 17th with an earlier attack on August 15th is a clear signal to officials in Bangkok that the main insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) is ready to pursue a scorched earth policy in the region targeting national firms and infrastructure if talks between it and a Thai government panel being held in Malaysia fail to make a breakthrough.
An analyst and former student activist has suggested that the co-ordinated bombing spree which occurred across the southern provinces in the early hours of Wednesday 17th of August last with an earlier incident on August 15th was the work of the revolutionary group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and a response to a stalemate in talks between the government and the leadership of the insurgency which are sponsored by Malaysia.
Talks between the kingdom’s Peace Dialogue Panel led by General Wanlop Rugsanoh, a senior security official with Thailand’s Ministry of Defence and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) took place earlier in August in Kuala Lumpur as part of ongoing negotiations to try to find a way to end the unrest in Thailand’s southern provinces which is a decades-old problem going back to 1948 and before that, to the kingdoms annexation of the independent Muslim kingdom of Pattani in 1908/09 and later attempts by the Thai government in Bangkok from the 1940s, to introduce Thai administration and customs into the region.
Ongoing conflict since 1948 which has seen thousands killed is now the subject of brokered peace talks
The conflict has seen tens of thousands of lives lost since with 6,500 killed alone from 2004 to 2015 and 12,000 injured.
There are fears that if the conflict is not solved peacefully, the provinces could become a hotbed for Muslim extremism and ideology especially given the relative economic deprivation of the southern provinces despite ongoing government efforts to promote investment and development of the region.
It is understood that at this month’s meeting in Malaysia, on August 1st to 2nd, Thai negotiators sought a truce or suspension of hostilities from August 15th to November 30th which is related to the Buddhist period of Lent which runs from July 14th to October 10th.
Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) sought ambitious progress as well as immunity for exiled leaders
However, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) which was represented in Kuala Lumpur by Anas Abdulrahman and two other observers, is understood to have been looking for a more permanent ceasefire and the removal of military positions and defensive dispositions throughout the region including checkpoints.
The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) also demanded that its representatives and leaders exiled abroad be given immunity from prosecution so that they can visit the southern provinces to hold discussions and forums with local communities in the region.
In addition to the problem that the security services now face due to the attacks on August 17th, there are also concerns about other insurgency groups such as the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), believed to be behind a bomb attack in Pattani province in April this year.
Outrageous and lethal firebomb attack was to vent frustration at the lack of progress in Kuala Lumpur
Mr Tuwae Daniya Tuwamaengae is a former member of the Federation of Pattani Student and Youth.
This week, speaking with the Bangkok Post newspaper, he explained that he thought the coordinated attacks with prior warning to avoid casualties on Wednesday, the 17th of August during which unfortunately it later emerged one person was killed when he found himself trapped in a store that was firebombed, were an attempt by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) to vent its frustration at the lack of progress in the talks with the government and to warn those in authority.
‘The BRN was putting out the message that it has tried its best to move the peace process along only to run into a brick wall put up by the Thai side,’ Mr Tuwae Daniya explained.
Talks may be going nowhere, that is what the insurgents fear and why they lashed out this month
He said it was a signal to the government that the talks are not going anywhere and any future fallout because of the breakdown would be something officials in Bangkok must bear responsibility for.
‘With the Thai peace talk team unresponsive to its call, the movement feels it has no choice but resort to violent means to retaliate,’ he said.
The attacks on August 17th targeted 17 different locations in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.
The attacks saw bombs, planted at Seven Eleven convenience stores at PTT Petrol Stations and Big C Stores, go off while in other instances, attackers left fire bombs in stores while giving warnings or used motorbikes to throw incendiary devices while passing, across the three southern provinces at the same time.
Charred body of 21-year-old victim found in a 7/11 store in Narathiwat, failed to get out in time
Later, on the 17th of August, the charred body of 21-year-old Masa Rich Mama of Su-ngai Kolok in Narathiwat was found near the fire exit of a Seven Eleven Store located at a PTT Station in Tambon Pase Mat.
It is thought that he had hidden beneath displays while an attacker placed an incendiary device in the store and urged shoppers to flee for their lives.
Investigating police surmise that he was unable to open the secondary exit and perished when the fire engulfed the store.
His family had filed a missing person report in the aftermath of the fire but Mr Masa Rich’s remains were only found as security services began to go through the wreckage looking for clues as part of an investigation ordered to hunt down those responsible.
Attacker dressed as a Muslim woman left a bomb on a counter and told shoppers to run for their lives
At least eight other people sustained an injury in the attacks but it is understood that the economic damage suffered as a consequence of the operations carried out with precision and which appeared to target large, franchise-like national enterprises, was the real message to the government.
A similar incident occurred in Yala province at 11.50 pm on Tuesday, August 16th when an attacker disguised in the clothing of a Muslim woman placed the bomb on the counter of another convenience store and urged shoppers to run for their lives.
A PTT petrol station and convenience store in Pattani’s Nong Chik district was completely razed to the ground while other targets suffered less catastrophic damage.
Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) described locations targeted as symbols of ‘state-backed capitalism’
In the aftermath of the attacks which a spokesman for Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha described as an ‘outrage’ senior security officials were slow to acknowledge that the wave of destruction was the work of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) although one source described it as an attack on ‘state power’ in the region.
This was confirmed by a statement from the insurgent group which described the targets chosen as ‘a symbol of state-backed capitalism’ in the southern provinces.
This also implies that there was an economic and propaganda message behind this month’s attacks which focused on national franchise chains and the Thai state-owned oil company, PTT.
The terror group’s message appears to have been well-targeted at popular national commercial chains which may be seen as threatening local business operators thus creating further division and alienation.
Chamber of Commerce leader explains the importance of small retailers and grocery outlets in Yala province
This week, the Chairman of the Yala Chamber of Commerce, Kampong Limkanchana, emphasised the importance of small grocery and retail outlets in the local provincial economy.
He described the larger national chains as a threat to smaller grocery stores in rural areas which he described as a financial necessity for many small and less well-off communities in the region.
He said the larger franchised stores, controlled by behemoth operators, were seen as wielding superior power over smaller operators throughout local communities and that this could become another factor in fostering discontent in the region.
The Seven Eleven chain is ubiquitous in Thailand with over twelve thousand stores and employs over 170,000 people in the kingdom while PTT, the state-owned oil company, plays a vital role in maintaining price stability in the kingdom with a turnover of ฿1.75 trillion reported in 2016.
The company had confirmed revenue of ฿237.17 billion in the first half of 2021 making it Thailand’s largest corporate earner.