It was a final goodbye to Troy and Giles at early hours of the morning today as Matt Brown and I headed out from Surat Thani 134 km further South to Thung Song. Highway running most of the way, overcast conditions making it a fairly comfortable ride in very good time. Some nice riding through rubber plantations providing the extra shade.
This is the furtherest South of Thailand I've ridden before and the culture, people and food is noticeably different. I say that in the nicest way - as the people down here seem more reserved but polite and somewhat more curious of foreigners cycling through this part of Thailand. One cannot forget that there is still friction (religious and political issues) the further South towards Malaysia we go. In the past the Thai military/police have been at loggerheads with opposing opposition groups, which has cost many lives on both sides, including innocent local villagers.
The South Thailand insurgency is an ongoing conflict centred in southern Thailand. It originated in 1948 as an ethnic and religious separatist insurgency in the historical Malay Patani Region, made up of the three southernmost provinces of Thailand and parts of a fourth, but has become more complex and increasingly violent since 2001.
The former Sultanate of Pattani, which included the southern Thai provinces of Pattani (Patani), Yala (Jala), Narathiwat (Menara) — also known as the three Southern Border Provinces (SBP) as well as neighbouring parts of Songkhla Province (Singgora), and the northeastern part of Malaysia (Kelantan), was conquered by the Kingdom of Siam in 1785 and, except for Kelantan, has been governed by Thailand ever since.
Although low-level separatist violence had occurred in the region for decades, the campaign escalated after 2001, with a recrudescence in 2004, and has occasionally spilled over into other provinces. Incidents blamed on southern insurgents have occurred in Bangkok and Phuket.
In July 2005, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra assumed wide-ranging emergency powers to deal with the southern violence, but the insurgency escalated further. On 19 September 2006, a military junta ousted Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup. The junta implemented a major policy shift by replacing Thaksin's earlier approach with a campaign to win over the "hearts and minds" of the insurgents. Despite little progress in curbing the violence, the junta declared that security was improving and that peace would come to the region by 2008. By March 2008, however, the death toll surpassed 3,000.
During the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya noted a "sense of optimism" and said that he was confident of bringing peace to the region in 2010. But by the end of 2010 insurgency-related violence had increased, confounding the government's optimism. Finally in March 2011, the government conceded that violence was increasing and could not be solved in a few months.
Local leaders have persistently demanded at least a level of autonomy from Thailand for the Patani region and some of the separatist insurgent movements have made a series of demands for peace talks and negotiations. However, these groups have been largely sidelined by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinasi (BRN-C), the group currently spearheading the insurgency. It sees no reason for negotiations and is against talks with other insurgent groups. The BRN-C has as its immediate aim to make southern Thailand ungovernable and it has largely been successful.
Estimates of the strength of the insurgency vary greatly. In 2004 General Pallop Pinmanee claimed that there were only 500 hardcore jihadists. Other estimates say there as many as 15,000 armed insurgents. Around 2004 some Thai analysts believed that foreign Islamic terrorist groups were infiltrating the area, and that foreign funds and arms are being brought in, though again, such claims were balanced by an equally large body of opinion suggesting this remains a distinctly local conflict.
Over 6,500 people died and almost 12,000 were injured between 2004 and 2015 in a formerly ethnic separatist insurgency, which has currently been taken over by hard-line jihadis and pitted them against both the Thai-speaking Buddhist minority and local Muslims who have a moderate approach or who support the Thai government.
Despite the ethnic affinity of the people of the Patani region with their Malay neighbours to the south, the old Patani Kingdom was led by sultans who historically preferred to pay tribute to the distant Siamese kings in Bangkok. For many centuries the King of Siam restricted himself to exacting a periodic tribute in the form of Bunga mas, ritual trees with gold leaves and flowers that were a symbolic acknowledgement of Siamese suzerainty, leaving the Patani rulers largely alone.
More to report as we get closer to Malaysia along the route of the long ride home.
Truck and Matt
On the long ride home, Southern Thailand
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