Malay-Muslim Insurgent Groups


Malay-Muslim Insurgent Groups

The Malay-Muslim insurgent groups of southern Thailand are difficult to define and classify properly. These insurgents never claim responsibility for attacks, have not given themselves a name, have no explicit "political wing", and do not issue statements or demands. In earlier phases of the southern Thai conflict, the militants were divided into various groups which had competing agendas.

The most prominent of these groups were the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). By the 1990s, these older groups had fragmented into rival factions, many of them semi-dormant, and some existed partly or largely in the imaginations of self-proclaimed leaders who were living in exile either in Malaysia or in Europe. The Thai military generally believes that the post-2004 insurgents are aligned with the National Revolutionary Front-Coordinate (Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate, BRN-C), a splinter group of the old BRN.

Thai intelligence claims that the militants have their own top-down structures operating in parallel with Thai villages, districts and provinces. Evidence for this monolithic view is patchy, however, and other analysts insist that most fighting is carried out by small groups of fighters (juwae), typically youths aged 17-25, who operate in cells of around 6, and carry out attacks largely on their own initiative – operating as "self-managed violence franchises". While these juwae have been trained by a larger movement, it apparently functions as a network rather than a conventional hierarchy – something the Thai security forces have struggled to comprehend. The precise relationship between older insurgent groups such as BRN-C and the current juwae remains murky.

Duncan McCargo, University of Leeds, Professor of Political Science