The Pattani Raya region at the southern tip of Thailand has long maintained an identity distinct from the rest of the country. Most inhabitants of Pattani are Malay, and ethnicity and culture historically separate from the Thai people, who comprise three quarters of Thailand’s population. Most of Thailand is Buddhist, while the Malay are almost all Muslim; the Malay have also been targets of racially and religiously motivated violence since the annexation of Pattani in 1902.
Thailand (previously known as Siam) has gained and lost control of the Pattani region several times over the last few centuries. The most recent seizure of control came in 1902, but the residents of Pattani Raya have not taken it lying down; the century since has been punctuated by Pattani separatist violence, and retributive strikes carried out by the Thai government.
The latest wave of violence started in 2001, and redoubled in 2004. The exact perpetrators are unknown, though the most likely candidate is the Pattani United Liberation Army-a terrorist organization seeking to establish an independent Muslim state in southern Thailand. The attacks have largely been directed against military targets and government infrastructure, but several bombings have been aimed at civilian populations as well.
In 2006, the Thai military ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and established a junta committee to direct the government. The junta, calling itself the Council for Democratic Reform, promised to restore democratic rule within a year. It failed to do so; instead, it aborted elections, suspended the national constitution, seized control of the media, and declared martial law.
Unlike the Thaksin administration, which reacted to attacks with vicious reprisals against Muslims, the junta has employed a lighter touch when dealing with the unknown rebels. The council for Democratic Reform has also met with several known Pattani nationalist groups to assuage the violence with peace talks; but since the attacks continue unabated, there appears to be more than one organization behind them.