All photographs and captions by Richard Humphries
Two improvised explosive devices were detonated outside the Big C supermarket in Pattani at 2pm in May. The first was a motorcycle in the car park, spreading panic among shoppers. As police on the scene were encouraging people to move back, a car bomb went off. It was the largest attack on a civilian target in Thailand’s troubled Deep South in months.
Around 6,800 people have been killed since 2004 in the Deep South, usually associated with Thailand’s Muslim-majority provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat that border the northern Malaysian states of Kelantan and Terengganu.
The source of the troubles stretches back even before the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909, its colonial border having no regard for lived realities off the map and on the ground. After a power struggle spanning several centuries that also involved Burma and Kedah, the Kingdom of Patani was destroyed by the Kingdom of Siam in the 19th century and annexed at the start of 20th century.
Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat comprised part of the area that was the Kingdom of Patani. The peoples of those three provinces share a distinct cultural heritage different from the Thais, some of which they share with some communities of Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and even in Penang. Malaysia has been attempting to play the role of mediator in Thailand’s southern insurgency.
The year 2004 is frequently used as a starting point for the present troubles, because of the Krue Se Mosque incident that year. Thirty-two insurgents who had sought refuge in the four-centuries old mosque were killed after a seven-hour standoff with Thai government security forces, apparently executed by being shot in the head. In October of the same year, 78 locals died of suffocation after being arrested at a protest. They had been piled into the back of trucks for hours.
The Deep South now has almost as many government armed personnel than in Afghanistan during the time of the US ‘surge’, pointing to the futility of seeking a military solution to the phantom-like insurgency and its roots in historical ethnic rivalries and enmity.
It was only shortly before the bomb attacks on the Big C supermarket that Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha reiterated his opposition to international help in solving the festering conflict.
“We must keep this issue away from the reach of the international arena,” he told reporters in Bangkok.
This series of images is drawn from the book Kingdom’s Edge by Malaysia-based photojournalist Richard Humphries. It provides a glimpse of the Deep South, its rhythms and the spirits that animate it. Humphries has been documenting the area since 2005.