As Malaysia celebrated its 55th anniversary of independence on Friday, Muslim separatists in southern Thailand marked the occasion with a string of coordinated bomb attacks across the country’s three restive, Islamic-majority provinces. On Hari Merdeka, the day which Malaysia commemorates its freedom from British colonial rule, ethnic Malays hung Malaysian flags from light poles and electricity wires and burned Thai flags to ashes — from within Thailand.
The three Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have been a flashpoint for unrest and violence for many years. Despite campaign promises of greater autonomy, Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has failed at ameliorating hostility in the south. Rather than mollifying tensions, Yingluck’s administration has witnessed a surge of disturbances of a violent nature from the insurgents, who routinely terrorize the Buddhist population by decapitating monks and parading their heads through the streets as a warning to others.
It is only one problem for Yingluck, whose time in the Premiership has been beset by a litany of headaches from the flooding of Bangkok last year, to the outrageous spike in lèse majesté accusations, to the ongoing class warfare being waged between the urban and rural sectors of the country. However, the violence in the south is quickly becoming the most deadly.
In March, there were four massive explosions in Yala that killed sixteen people and wounded over 300 more. A few days later, two unidentified men on a motobike hurled a grenade into a gas station. Throughout April, there were several instances of random and sporadic attacks. And, at the end of July during the holy time of Ramadan, five Thai security officials were killed in a car bomb.
The most organized separatist group in the region is the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO), who have called for independence from Thailand. The PULO have indirect links to Jemaah Islamiah, the largest Islamic militant organization in Southeast Asia and the group responsible for the Bali bombing in 2002. Why Malaysian flags were raised in various places is not clear, according to Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Right Watch, in a story about the latest incident run by the Associated Press.
Up to this point, Yingluck has not authorized a large military crackdown on groups like the PULO the way her brother, and former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra did in 2004. It’s believed that Yingluck and the Thai military’s upper most echelon do not see eye-to-eye. With a host of other problems on the table, that is not likely to change anytime soon.