2017/21, 12 May 2017
Analysts are now convinced that the bombs that exploded outside the “Big C” supermarket in the southern Thai provincial capital of Pattani on Tuesday afternoon were the work of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). The bombs—a small one apparently planted in motorcycle in the store’s parking area whose explosion was followed by that of a larger one planted in a stolen pick-up truck in front of its main entrance—left sixty people injured.
BRN is the principal armed separatist organization involved in the violence that has engulfed the region since 2004. Bombings attributed to the group have not typically targeted areas in which it could expect large numbers of Muslim civilians to be present. While there are indications that Tuesday’s bombing was a botched operation, the choice of target nevertheless suggests that BRN sought to send a message to Thai authorities.
What is the nature of that message? The bombing comes in the context of ongoing yet still informal talks in Malaysia between representatives of the military government in Bangkok and an umbrella group known as Majlis Syura Patani (MARA Patani). In late February, it was announced that these talks aimed toward the creation of a number of violence-free “safety zones” in Thailand’s Deep South. But observers have long questioned the value of talks with MARA Patani; while some BRN members sit in MARA Patani, BRN as an organisation has not joined the group. Doubts about the talks have also related to Kuala Lumpur’s ability to serve as an impartial facilitator in discussions between one of its ASEAN partners and Patani Malay nationalists. The message of Tuesday’s bombing serves to answer those questions. The high number of civilian casualties in which it resulted reinforces further doubts about the MARA Patani process. Whether the bombing will induce the ruling politically maladroit Thai junta to opt for a different, more effective approach to peace-making in the Deep South is the question that now merits attention.
Michael Montesano is Visiting Senior Fellow and Cooordinator of the Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
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