BRN rebels, Thai military spar over identity of body found in border river

Mariyam Ahmad and Muzliza Mustafa
Pattani, Thailand, and Kuala Lumpur
BRN rebels, Thai military spar over identity of body found in border river Local officials inspect the site of bomb blast in Chanae, a district of Narathiwat province in southern Thailand, Oct. 21, 2022.

Rebels in Thailand’s Deep South insist that a dead man found in a river on the Malaysia border is one of their senior insurgents, even as results of a DNA test on the corpse have not yet been released and while the Thai military has denied this.

Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the most potent of armed separatists groups in the southern border region, first came out with a strongly worded statement last week about the discovery of the blackened and bloated body in the Kolok River on Sept. 29. The corpse belonged to one of its fighters, who had been abducted and tortured, the rebels alleged. 

“BRN strongly condemns the extra-judicial killing of people suspected of affiliation with BRN. Such acts are direct violations of the Geneva Conventions,” they said in a statement sent to BenarNews on Oct. 19.

The army commander for Thailand’s southern border region rebutted the allegations, saying the body does not belong to Zahri Bin Abdullah (also known as Yahree Dueloh), a 42-year-old BRN insurgent, as identified by the rebel group.

“The fingerprint check of the corpse showed it had no relationship with the family [of Yahree Dueloh]. They [the dead man and Yahree] are different men,” Lt. Gen. Santi Sakuntanak told BenarNews via a text message on Friday.

Meanwhile, a local activist said his organization had documented six cross-border abductions in the past decade, including the one in late September of the man who turned up dead in the Kolok River two days later.

According to sources close to the BRN, Yahree served as chief of the rebel group’s youth wing in Narathiwat, one of the provinces in the Deep South, and had been living in northern Malaysia.

“We may have to dig up the body and check it again [to see] whose body it was,” Santi said. “But officials affirmed it was not Yahree’s body. Whatever, we have to wait for the police to confirm [the identity].”

Local police officials did not immediately respond to questions from BenarNews as to whether the dead man’s identity had been established since Santi’s comments last week.

According to Arfan Wattana, a secretary with the Patani, a local activist group, Yahree’s body was found floating on the Thai side of the Kolok River on Sept. 29.

On Thursday, Yahree’s wife said there was no doubt that the body belonged to her husband, but the family would not allow it to be disinterred for further examination. She said she had identified the body by recognizing a distinctive scar.

“The other day, officials visited us and asked us to come to the police station, seeking permission to dig up the corpse. But I rejected it. The corpse was him. I can remember the scar on his leg,” Nuraining Deromae told BenarNews in a phone interview.

“I have no doubt the body was his, I am sure. But the prosecution must go on,” she said.

Blood samples from the corpse were sent to Prince of Songkla University for DNA testing but the results were still unknown, both Arfan and Nuraining said.

‘Where is he now?’

Meanwhile, the head of a panel representing BRN in Malaysia-brokered peace talks with Thailand stood by comments he made last week saying that the man whose body was found in the river was in fact the missing insurgent.

He said that his statement last week that Yahree’s identity had been established by a DNA test was based on “information received at the time.”

Zahri Bin Abdullah (also known as Yahree Dueloh) is seen in an undated handout photo released by Thai officials.
Zahri Bin Abdullah (also known as Yahree Dueloh) is seen in an undated handout photo released by Thai officials.

Besides, BRN trusts information shared by the Yahree family more than other sources, Anas said, without elaborating.

The BRN official was blunt.

“If the military says it’s not Yahree, where is he now? He is nowhere in Malaysia, neither in Thailand,” he said.

The Patani has investigated five other cases of cross-border abductions during the past 10 years, other than the case of Yahree, according to Arfan. 

“There were five incidents where we had some clues showing that Thai and rogue Malaysian officials were involved. But for this case, we’ve no clues about the culprits yet,” he told BenarNews in a phone interview.

Meanwhile, fighting has continued in the Deep South since BenarNews first reported last week about the discovery of the body in the river.

On Oct. 21, five Thai soldiers were injured in a roadside bombing that left behind a crater (pictured) in Chanae, a district of Narathiwat.

On Tuesday, two police officers were shot and wounded, while a suspected insurgent was killed during a shootout as Thai security forces surrounded the suspect’s home in Thepha, a district of Songkhla province, authorities said.    

Since the separatist insurgency reignited in the Deep South in January 2004, at least 7,344 people have died and 13,641 have been injured in violence across the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking border region, according to data updated through March 2022 by Deep South Watch, a local think-tank.

Matahari Ismail contributed to this report from Narathiwat, Thailand.


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