III. BRN-Coordinate and Transformation of Separatist Insurgency
In 1961 the BRN was founded by ustadz (religious teacher) Haji Abdul Karim Hassan as a result of popular opposition among the ethnic Malay Muslim population to an attempt by Thai officials to put all ponoh under the regulation of the Education Ministry. Influenced by a potent combination of ethnic Malay nationalism and Muslim extremism, BRN-Coordinate (Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinas) has emerged as the strongest among the various BRN factions (the others being BRN-Congress and BRN-Ulama). Over the period of quiet years in the lead-up to the widespread resurgence of separatist violence in 2004, BRN-Coordinate has focused on expanding its strength through the network of tok guru, ustadz, and jehku (teachers in tadikavillage-based elementary Koranic schools), as well as the network of students of tadika, ponoh, and private Islamic colleges, taking the impetus for that expansion from deep-rooted resentment toward abuses, exploitation, corruption, and injustice on the part of Thai officials.18 Thai authorities reported that the expansion of BRN-Coordinate took place under the coordination of Sapa-ing Baso, owner of Thamma Witthaya Foundation School in Yala, and his lieutenant Masae Useng, who also played an instrumental role as secretary in the PUSAKA foundation, which represented the network of tadika in Narathiwat.19
Reports by Thai military intelligence in the southern border provinces in 2004 indicated that, according to documents seized from Masae Usengs house, the resurgence and expansion of BRN-Coordinate has been focused since 1997 on a distinctly Islamist nationalist platform, known as the seven-step plan:20
The organizational structure at the operational level in the villages and sub-districts is reportedly based on five unitspolitical work and recruitment (often led by religious leaders); economic and financial affairs; womens affairs;youth (pemuda); and armed activity.21 However, the structure and decision-making process at the top level remains shadowy and enigmatic.
Regarding the last of thesearmed activitythe process of indoctrination and radicalization, particularly from the late 1990s, has created a new generation of village-based separatist militants operating in cell-like structures within the loose network of BRN-Coordinate called Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani (Patani Freedom Fighters). The cells of Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani are loosely connected together at tambon (sub-district) level, leaving a high degree of operational autonomy in each villageleaders at the village level are able to decide when, where, and whom to attack.22
Ibrohim (not his real name) recruits and oversees activity of separatist militants of BRN-Coordinate in Narathiwat. He explained to Human Rights Watch the transformation of BRN-Coordinate and the creation of village-based pejuang kemerdekaan Patani:
Seng (not his real name), an ethnic Malay Muslim villager in Narathiwats Sri Sakorn district, told Human Rights Watch that the influence of Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani has grown significantly and rapidly in the past three years.
The generation of ethnic Malay Muslim men under age 30 constitutes the primary pool for recruitment into pejuang kemerdekaan Patani. Many of them were groomed for insurgency from a very young age during their education in tadika and ponoh, where students are taught that Siam (present-day Thailand) invaded and occupied Patani Darulsalam, enslaving the people, suppressing Islamic practice, and destroying the ethnic Malay identity. The process of indoctrination is intensified at sessions of religious and political discussion after the evening prayer. The recruits are often scouted and persuaded to join by their friends, classmates, relatives, neighbors, or teachers.
San (not his real name), a village chief in Pattani, recalled how ethnic Malay Muslim children and teenagers have been drawn into the process of ideological radicalization and, for some of them, recruitment to become militants.
Cha (not his real name), who joined a village-based cell in the network of BRN-Coordinate militants in 2003, told Human Rights Watch that he was recruited by a local ustadz after former students and his classmates from a private Islamic college impressed upon him for many years that it was a rightful duty for him to liberate Patani Darulsalam from infidels.
Chas account regarding the recruitment process has been echoed by many other separatist militants whom Human Rights Watch interviewed. However, the recruitment does not necessarily mean immediate involvement in armed attacks or killings.27
After being indoctrinated with radical separatist and Islamist ideology from their elementary Koranic classes (often starting with seven-year-old children), the next step is to become members of pemuda. Then, still in their teens, the recruits will have to prove their bravery and commitment to the cause of insurgencyby scattering propaganda leaflets and death threats against infidels (Buddhist Thais) or collaborators (ethnic Malay Muslims known to be working or associating with Thai authorities).28 The next step is vandalismfor example, burning public telephone booths or destroying road signs (using spray paint or sledge hammers). After that, they can take part in actual militant attacks acting as a lookout or helping to block escape routes with felled trees, burning tires, or metal spikes. Sometimes they are enlisted to join in arson attacks targeting government buildings (commonly schools), security posts, Buddhist temples, and houses of perceived infidels and collaborators. Often at this point the recruits have also already gone through training to build up their physical strength and basic knowledge in military tactics. These trainings are not fixed to one location, but are rotated from rubber plantations to fruit orchards to school fields and remote forests. Later, some of the recruits will be chosen to receive training in machete fighting, firearmsusing M16 or AK-47 assault rifles as well as shotguns, pistols, and semi-automatic pistolsand explosives. At the same time, they will receive more intensive training in ambush and attack tactics. These recruits will then take part in actual attacks and killings in various ways according to their skills and the preference of the cells that they belong toambushes, drive-by shootings, bomb detonation, summary execution with firearms, machete attacks, and beheadings. Those with more combat experience (often in their mid-20s) will operate as commandos under direct control of village-level cell leaders.29
Doma (not his real name), who provided a training ground for the network of separatist militants of BRN-Coordinate in Pattani, told Human Rights Watch that some of the trainers are of an earlier generation of separatist militants, from BRN or other groups, with battlefield experiences in the southern border provinces or overseasparticularly Afghanistan in the 1990s. Other trainers are former conscripts of the Thai army, which makes them familiar with Thai army troop organization, deployment, and tactics. We are very capable of conducting good training by our own men, he said. There is no need to get foreigners to help us in our struggle. Doma told Human Rights Watch that even the instruction to make trigger parts in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) can be done by someone with the same level of knowledge of electronic circuits as those who can repair mobile telephones or digital watches. Doma also stressed that their weapons, both firearms and explosives, have been acquired locally through robbery, extortion, and the black market. We have enough supply to fight for many years, he said.30
By February 2005 the SBPPBC was estimating that separatist militants had infiltrated and established control of 875 out of the total 1,574 villages in the southern border provinces.31 With regards to the military strength of separatist militants, the Police Forward Command in the southern border provinces estimated in June 2006 that well-trained separatist militants (known as Runda Kumpulan Kecil, or RKK, after the title of their training course in small patrol unit tactics) were active in 500 villages, while there were more than 4,000 permuda members across the southern border provinces.32
Sori (not his real name), a 17-year-old ethnic Malay Muslim student, told Human Rights Watch that the climate of fear has been heightened as a result of the brutality of separatist militants, leaving villagers with no choice but to provide supplies and sanctuary to separatist militants or give up their children to become members of pemuda or pejuang kemerdekaan Patani.
Poh Meng (not his real name), a senior commander of PULO now retired and living a quiet life in Narathiwat, voiced his concern to Human Rights Watch about the influence of radical Islamist ideology, growing brutality, and unconventional tactics used by members of pejuang kemerdekaan Patani:
Poh Meng is in contact with other members of the previous generation of separatist militants. Bor Heng (not his real name), Poh Mengs colleague who used to operate as a PULO local commander, spoke strongly against the current campaign of killing Buddhist Thai civilians:
18 Human Rights Watch interview with BRN-Coordinate members, Narathiwat, July 25, 2006.
19 International Security Operation Command (Fourth Region, Second Division), Specific Report Regarding PUSAKA Foundation and Terrorist Network, (รายงานการศึกษาเฉพาะกรณีเรื่องมูลนิธิ PUSAKA กับเครือข่ายโจรก่อการร้าย), June 2003.
20 International Security Operation Command (Fourth Region, Second Division), Specific Report Regarding the Involvement of Ponoh in Terrorist Movements,(รายงานการศึกษาเฉพาะกรณีเรื่องความเกี่ยวพันของโรงเรียนปอเนาะกับขบวนการโจรก่อการร้าย), January 2004.
21 Adul Saengsinghkeo Named RKK Perpetrator of Southern Violence, Isara News Center, July 2, 2006, http://www.tjanews.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1041 (accessed July 4, 2006).
22 Human Rights Watch interview with BRN-Coordinate member (name withheld), Narathiwat, November 28, 2006.
23 Human Rights Watch interview with Ibrohim, Narathiwat, November 28, 2006.
24 Human Rights Watch interview with Seng, Narathiwat, June 28, 2007.
25 Human Rights Watch interview with San, Pattani, July 10, 2007.
26 Human Rights Watch interview with Cha, Narathiwat, July 12, 2006.
27 Human Rights Watch interview with BRN-Coordinate members in Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, April 2004-November 2006.
28 These leaflets and death threats bear no identification (neither the name nor symbol) of BRN-Coordinate. In most cases, propaganda leaflets or threats targeting Buddhist Thais are typed or handwritten in the Thai language, with a signature of the warriors of Patani (นักรบปาตานี) or freedom fighters of Patani (นักสู้เพื่อเอกราชปาตานีa literal translation of pejuang kemerdekaan Patani).
29 Human Rights Watch interview with BRN-Coordinate members (names withheld) in Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, April 2004-November 2006.
30 Human Rights Watch interview with Doma, Pattani, December 10, 2006.
31 Adul Saengsinghkeo Named RKK Perpetrator of Southern Violence, Isara News Center, July 2, 2006, http://www.tjanews.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1041 (accessed July 4, 2006).
32 Ibid. Each RKK unit has five or six menmaking that at least 2,500 to 3,000 well trained separatist militants now operationally active.
33 Human Rights Watch interview with Sori, Narathiwat, November 12, 2006.
34 Human Rights Watch interview with Poh Meng, Narathiwat, July 20, 2006.
35 Human Rights Watch interview with Bor Heng, Pattani, December 26, 2006.