Country Profile



The conflict in southern Thailand, which many will associate with the last ten years, has in fact existed since the late 19th century. What we must understand is that even though Buddhism is central to Thai identity, the southern Patani region has fought to carry on its own identity as a Malay state, where the majority of the population are Muslim. This is a complex situation, which needs the support and agreement of a number of players, and has yet to find a solution.

1The conflict in southern Thailand is concentrated in the Patani region where 5,500 people have been killed since 2004. The majority of those killed have been Malay Muslims, but there has also been violence against Buddhists, and numbers are frequently contested.

2Because Buddhism is an integral component of Thai national identity, it is difficult to disassociate religion from the insurgency, especially when the source of the challenge also stems from a religious minority.

3The Thai state suffers from internal fragmentation, preventing a political solution. Regional intermediaries have failed to engage a broad enough set of participants, and it is difficult to identify key players for negotiation; however peace talks commenced again in December 2014.

Situation Report

The southern Thailand conflict is an ongoing insurgency, concentrated in an area historically known as Patani. For a detailed analysis of the conflict, see Duncan McCargo, Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand, Ithaca NY and London: Cornell University Press, 2008. An excellent source on the background is the International Crisis Group Report, Southern Thailand: Insurgency, not Jihad, Asia Report No. 98, May 2005, and several subsequent reports, accessible at The region comprises three of Thailand's southernmost provinces (Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat), as well as four districts of neighbouring Songkhla province.

Around 80 per cent of the region's population of roughly 1.8 million is Muslim (overwhelmingly Sunni), while the majority of the region's Muslims speak a local variety of the Malay language, and identify themselves as nayu (or Melayu, Malay).

The ancient sultanate of Patani was only formally incorporated into Siam (now Thailand) in 1909, under a treaty signed with Britain. During the twentieth century, Buddhist-majority Thailand successfully assimilated various other territories into a shared "Thai" identity, but Patani has been the focus of long-standing, intermittent resistance to rule from Bangkok. Malay separatist groups waged a campaign of violence against the Thai state in the 1960s and 1970s, which was largely suspended through an elite pact in the early 1980s. However, violence began again after the Thaksin Shinawatra government first took office in 2001 and erupted in earnest in January 2004. Since then, more than 5,500 people have died in one of the world's most intensive insurgencies.

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