The red and yellow shirts
During the years 2008 to 2010, Thailand was hit by several revolutionary political crises that degenerated into violent protests, concentrated in the capital Bangkok.
In August 2008, large parts of Bangkok, including the airport, were besieged by yellow-clad protesters. The protesters managed to force new elections, which were won by the Democratic Party.
In early April 2010, Bangkok was again hit by violent demonstrations. This time it was the red-clad supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who expressed their dissatisfaction with the current political situation. These demonstrations degenerated and when the situation improved after weeks of unrest and clashes, 88 people had lost their lives and over 1800 were injured.
Another coup was carried out in 2014 when the democratically elected government was overthrown by the military (see “Thailand today” below)
These clashes, which have often been between yellow and red shirts – the color symbolizes which party you support – are constantly below the surface of the Thai political system.
The rebels in Pattani
In southern Thailand there is an area called Pattani. It is an ancient kingdom that when Thailand’s borders were drawn was divided so that parts of it today are in Thailand and other parts in Malaysia.
Ever since the area became part of the Kingdom of Siam, people have been negative about being ruled from Bangkok. The people of Pattani feel a greater sense of belonging to Malaysia because in many cases they speak Malay and are Muslims.
Pattanis armed groups
In the early 1960’s, several organizations were formed that wanted to separate Pattani from Thailand through armed struggle. The goals varied, some of the groups fought for an independent Pattani, while others fought primarily to make the province part of Malaysia.
The more religiously influenced opponents of the Thai regime became stronger in the mid-1990’s when a group of men returned to Pattani from Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, they had clashed with the Muslim mujahedin movement, which fought against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan.
In 2001, some attacks began to take place in the area, but they consisted mainly of bombs that exploded in the middle of the night at railway stations so no one was injured.
The government blamed “bandits” and criticized the military and police in the area for not being able to stop the bombs. They suspected that parts of the military had committed the act themselves, or paid criminals to detonate bombs, so that they could keep their military bases in the area. The attacks in the area increased in the following years but they still rarely led to casualties.
The conflict is escalating
In early January 2004, the conflict in Pattani suddenly became well known. Several hundred people attacked a military camp and fled with four hundred rifles while killing four soldiers. State of emergency was introduced and the military increased its presence in the southern parts of the country.
During that time, the military began to set up roadblocks around the provinces in an attempt to get hold of those responsible. On April 28, 2004, eleven different roadblocks were attacked and more than a hundred people were killed during the fighting.
The government claimed that all those killed had been in combat, but it turned out that most of them were unarmed. Even worse was the news that 32 people had been killed inside the area of the historic Kru-Ze Mosque in Pattani. It seemed that most of them had been executed by the military.
The Tak-Bai Massacre
Now even those sections of the local population in southern Thailand who did not support the rebels began to become increasingly critical of the government.
The worst incident took place on October 25, 2004, when hundreds of protesters gathered outside the police station in the city of Tak-Bai to protest the arrest of young people from the area. When the army arrived at the scene, they decided to arrest many in the crowd. The apprehended backbands were beaten and loaded into trucks, then taken to the nearest military base. During the trip, 78 people were crushed to death, and it is also believed that seven people were executed by the military.
Following the events in Tak-Bai, the number of attacks increased sharply. Since then, several attacks have taken place every week, both against military targets, but also against the civilian population in the area. It is still unclear exactly who is behind the violence in southern Thailand as very few statements have been made by the rebels.