Violent conflict in Thailand’s deep south as been ongoing since 4 January 2004—15 years of killing and bombs. It’s seen approximately 7,000 dead and almost 13,500 injured, with martial law and an emergency decree implemented over the region from 2004 and 2005 on respectively. These massive numbers can make people feel like the situation is hopeless, but the upcoming election on 24 March has brought people together to advocate for peace.

The deep south—generally use to refer to three provinces: Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat—has been ruled by Thailand since 1785, when the Kingdom of Siam conquered the former Sultanate of Pattani. Unlike the majority Buddhist population in other parts of Thailand, the south is home to Malay Muslims who have since struggled to assert their identity and status amid “Thaification” cultural assimilation efforts. Structural violence in the form of the unequal distribution of resources has also led to a higher rate of poverty in the south compared to other regions of the country, stoking further resentment.

A separatist insurgency emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but escalated into armed, violent conflict in earnest in 2004. Rights groups like Human Rights Watch have since called out both the armed insurgents and the Thai military for targeting civilians, attacking places of worship, and carrying out extrajudicial killings.

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Hathairat Phaholtap, Wist, was a senior journalist from Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS). She has been working as a journalist for 16 years, covering politics and human rights issues.