Residents of Narathiwat staged a peace rally on Saturday (June 22nd), calling for an end to the violence that has plagued the region for almost a decade and calling on fugitive insurgent suspects to turn themselves in to authorities.
The rally, held in Ra-ngae district, followed recent talks between the Thai government and leaders of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), considered one of the main groups behind the violent insurgency that has plagued the Deep South since 2004.
Some 500 demonstrators, including Malay Muslims as well as Thai Buddhists, gathered for the event, which was led by Ra-ngae Association for Peace Chairman Mahamad Karik Pathan. Religious and community leaders from all seven Ra-ngae subdistricts attended.
"What reason is there to divide up our homeland?" Mahamad told the crowd. "Islamic teaching tells us that he who takes the life of a fellow Muslim, or a believer of any other religion, is doomed to Hell. It is time for one and all to come together, be good citizens and return to the fold for the happiness of the mother and father of this nation.
"Those who are true Muslims would never commit acts of harm or terror, and those that do only reveal themselves as deviants, disbelievers and religious outcasts," he added.
Aesoh Seetee, a villager from Bangor Sata subdistrict, joined the peace rally.
"I see it as a good cause and a chance to demonstrate our collective support to restore peace to the three southern border provinces – which have suffered too much harm, with many thousands losing their lives since the violence escalated (in 2004)," she told Khabar Southeast Asia. "Now never does a day go by without somebody being killed or injured in an attack. Who can put up with this?"
Jehamee Adunloh, a rubber tapper in Tangyongmas, told Khabar he fears for his safety when he goes out in the dark every night to work.
"So many innocent people have already been murdered – this is the worst part. I would like it if I never again had to see or hear again reports that 'someone was shot to death' or 'someone was blown up', but that's probably just a dream because getting the perpetrators to renounce violence will be difficult indeed," he said. "There are a lot of parties with vested interests benefitting from the situation in the Deep South."
Ra-ngae, a government-designated 'red zone', has 60 fugitive suspects with criminal charges pending and 25 suspects wanted under the Emergency Decree currently in effect across much of the Deep South. In a bid to persuade militants to renounce violence and return to civilian life, the authorities have launched a rehabilitation drive.
The initiative, drawn up by Army Region 4 Commander Sakorn Chindrakul, enables surrendered insurgents to undergo re-education training before returning to their homes, reintegrating into society and helping develop the nation.
Several banners called on the suspects to lay down their arms and take advantage of the offer. According to Thai authorities, at least 28 fugitives have been in touch with police, expressing their desire to surrender.
This was not the first time Ra-ngae has been the scene of civic action for peace. Fed up with the bloodshed, residents rallied in January after a spate of attacks.