BANGKOK — While Sunday’s charter referendum unfolded peacefully through the rest of the country, the three southern border provinces were hit by a spree of bombings and arson attacks bearing the hallmarks of local separatists.
The attacks were described by several experts as an attempt to disrupt the vote and show discontent toward the military regime in the Deep South, where the majority of voters have long lived under martial law and rejected the junta-backed constitution.
Although the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala are familiar with daily incidents of violence during the last dozen years, the frequency of attacks in the last two days was remarkable, said Chamroon Den-udom, chairman of the Southern Islamic Culture Foundation.
At least 35 small bombings rocked the region throughout Saturday and Sunday, including a roadside bomb that struck a convoy carrying referendum ballots in Pattani. On Monday morning, the largest rubber factory in Yala was burned down by unidentified assailants, and a grenade was fired at a ranger base there. The attacks left one person dead and three injured.
“The attacks are more numerous than usual,” said Chamroon, a former police commander. “The movement wants to send a signal to the military that people in the three southern border provinces are not happy with the constitution, because it’s a constitution that comes from the military and the coup regime.”
Puangthong Pawakapan, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, also said it’s understandable that many people in the Deep South voted no.
Residents in the three southern border provinces have been on the receiving end of military repression for a long time, she said, and they clearly do not want the military to play a greater role in society.
The militants’ goal is to secede the Muslim-majority region and revive the independent sultanate of Patani, which was annexed by Bangkok in the early 20th century.
Panu Uthairat, sec-gen of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center, said the insurgents increased attacks to scare away voters, which they failed to do.
“There were attempts to cause confusion, terror and intimidation to keep people from exercising their rights to vote,” Panu told reporters Monday. “But in the end, people came out to exercise their vote beyond our expectation. So it’s satisfactory.”
Chamroon saw it otherwise, pointing to the vote tally in the three provinces, where 60 percent voted to reject the charter.
“It’s like a contest to win the hearts and mind of the masses in the region,” Chamroon said. “Now, let’s analyze the fact that a majority of people voted against [the charter], so it means that the movement managed to win a big part of the people to their side.”
Chairman of the National Security Council Taweep Netniyom conceded that the outcome suggested a win for the regime’s opponents, but blamed it on the threat posed by secessionists.
“One factor we have to be aware of is the possibility that people in the three southern border provinces feel pressured by many dangers, and from those who think differently,” Taweep said at news conference, using a euphemism for the insurgents.
Additional reporting Pravit Rojanaphruk