In 1902, when Siam annexed the three provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat, they were part of the Sultanate of Patani (“Pattani” with tw…o “T” is the Thai spelling, but the original Malay spelling is “Patani”), established at the end of the 14th century and considered by some scholars as the birthplace of Islam in Southeast Asia. Already before 1902 there was nominal Siamese control over the area, but the Sultanate was free to maintain a substantial economical, political, and cultural independence and the hierarchical relations were represented by the dispatch of gold and silver to the King as a symbol of loyalty.
The annexation was strengthened in 1909 by an Anglo-Siamese treaty that drew a border between Patani and the Malay states of Kelantan, Perak, Kedah, and Perlis. The central policy made by Bangkok imposed Thai officials sent directly from the capital. That it is just an example of the attempt to force an assimilation policy demolishing the traditional local structures, causing resistance and tensions by the Malay minorities. A religious connotation grew when the local communities substituted the traditional elite with the teachers – the Tok Guru – of the religious boarding school – the Ponoh (from the Arabic word Fondok) – as “community leaders, defenders of the faith, and upholders of the Malay identity”.
Those of these years were the first opposers to the Siamese rulers. They were led by different personalities and assumed various traits: the last Sultan of Patani – Tengku Abdul Kadir – who opposed a passive resistance (1903); his subsequent arrest increased tensions leading to an uprising in Bangkok (1906); the Sufi sheiks who led an uprising calling for a jihad against the infidel Siamese government (1910).
The Government’s reaction was meant to reduce tensions, but it was in fact another attempt to assimilate the Malay-Muslim minorities. Indeed the principal reforms were directed at the educational system with the “Compulsory Primary Education Act”, which obliged all children to attend state primary school for four years in order to learn the Thai language and Buddhist ethic too. As predictable, the Tok Guru perceived the reform as an attack to their language, religion and culture and as an attempt to supplant the Ponohs. Therefore they organized massive protests against the government’s policies: first of all, education policy and taxes, explicitly in disadvantage for the Southern communities. In this case the government reaction was quite contradictory because it removed the unwelcome officials and reduced the taxes, but at the same time arrested and executed suspected leaders. Until the end of the 30s the situation did not present any significant variations. However, with Phibun Songkhram and his ultra-nationalist Pan-Thai policy, it started a nationalist assimilation approach with a consequent period of confrontation. The most important aspects of his policy are:
•A ban on Malays serving in government offices;
•Thai names were “warmly” recommended;
•Prohibition to dress in public the traditional Muslim-Malay clothes;
•Cultural mandates to assimilate ethnic minorities;
•Buddha statues were placed in every public school.
These policies were understood as a challenge to southern culture; thus it is from this period that organized movements started to fight against the assimilation. During the war period and until the 60s the situation shifted constantly from a conciliatory approach made by the government (the Prime Minister Pridi Phanomyong introduced the “Patronage of Islam Act” in 1944, which included Muslim leaders into the State structures in order to advise the king on matters related to Islam), to riots in the South by insurgents (during the second part of the 40s the Patani People’s Movement – PPM – established by Sulong bin Abdul Kabir bin Mohammad el Patani – alias Haji Sulong – organized numerous demonstrations in order to petition for political and cultural rights, as well as the implementation of Islamic law); from a new, severe, plan devised in Bangkok (after the coup by Phibun Songkhram in 1947, the common approach was to imprison religious leaders and southern parliamentarians) to violent rebellions in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat (when at least 400 Muslims died in the Dusun Nyur rebellion, the religious leaders of Malaysia and three Southern Thai provinces called for a defensive jihad against Thai authorities) .
In the 60s and 70s the situation became more and more strained, with the evolution of the Muslim-Malay movements towards a violent line of attack and the tough response made by the Thai authorities. In fact the insurgents’ tactic was to hit the police posts and government buildings, and to extort money from rubber and coconut plantation owners, villagers, and local businessmen. The typical governmental responses were military operations.
The circumstances drastically changed when Prem Tinasulanond took office in 1980. He was chosen directly by King Bhumibhol – thanks to His Network Monarchy – in order to resolve or at least soften the southern problem. Prem had much better understanding of the identity policies and the local grievances than his predecessors, he was a liberal-pragmatic- military general with southern origins, and therefore he knew the insurgents’ leaders too. As a result, his new strategy – the so-called “Thai Rom Yen”, that can be translated as “peace on the south” – emphasized the participation of Muslim leaders in political life; particular attention was dedicated to the economic development of the Southern areas with the improvement of infrastructure, the connection of the electricity and water grids to the remote Southern areas, and a broad amnesty was granted. Furthermore he contributed to building a new monitoring system to coordinate the shift from confrontation to negotiation with the joint participation of representatives from the military, civil, and police sectors – the so-called CPM 43. Of utmost importance was the establishment of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) where the.
political matters were managed,