King Maha Vajiralongkorn has pardoned a man imprisoned for life in connection with insurgent attacks that killed more than 100 people in Thailand’s Deep South in 2004, in what a prison official said was the first royal pardon of a suspected southern rebel.
Abdulroning Jeloh, who was interviewed by BenarNews at his mother’s home in Pattani province on Tuesday, expressed gratitude to the monarch for granting the rare pardon that gave him back his freedom after 15 years behind bars.
“I thank the King for the pardon,” he said, “otherwise I needed to wait for two more years, 10 months and 10 days.”
Abdulroning received a death sentence in 2004 but it was commuted to life imprisonment in 2004. His pardon came about three years before his scheduled release for good behavior.
A prison official, who requested anonymity, confirmed that Abdulroning had received a royal pardon and was released last Friday. He was the first among 500 suspected insurgents incarcerated in the Deep South to receive such a pardon, the official said.
Royal pardons are offered occasionally at “auspicious moments,” such as during the monarch’s coronation, and would include some criteria, corrections officials said.
According to the Royal Gazette, prisoners who could be eligible for royal pardon would include those with disabilities or terminal diseases, or those within a year of completing their sentence.
On April 28, 2004, separatist insurgents launched widespread pre-dawn attacks on 11 security checkpoints and government locations in the southern provinces of Pattani, Songkhla and Yala.
Initial reports said there were 108 fatalities on both sides, but Thai authorities later reported that 107 suspected insurgents and five members of the security forces had been killed.
Abdulroning was captured after being shot in the ribs during coordinated attacks, but he maintained his innocence during the interview with Benar.
Abdulroning, who declined to give his age but appeared to be in his 50s, said on that day in April, he drove a truck carrying some of his neighbors. He was told to stop the vehicle when they arrived at Mae Lan police station without knowing what would happen next, he said.
He figured out what his neighbors had in mind only after shooting erupted and a bullet pierced his chest, he said.
“I thought I was dead, but the nurses saved me,” Abdulroning said, adding that five of his neighbors were killed in the attack. “I was detained and tried,” he said, emphasizing that he thought he would only be sent to jail for 10 or 20 days.
The 2004 attacks led to a massacre at the historic Krue Se Mosque, when suspected 32 insurgents hid in the small concrete structure and were killed after a general ordered an all-out assault.
In January of the same year, insurgents raided a military barracks in Narathiwat, another Deep South province, and looted more than 400 rifles, reigniting the insurgency that began in the 1960s and has killed more than 7,000 people in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region since 2004.
The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the strongest of the separatist insurgent groups that fight for independence of the Malay Patani people in the Deep South, never officially claimed responsibility for the attacks.
During the past five years, Thailand has attempted negotiations BRN but talks have largely stalled.
Abdulroning told BenarNews that he would live a clean life, growing chili peppers in their backyard to raise money.
“I intend to become a merchant to feed my mom,” he said.
His mother, Aesa Lateh, said she was very happy to have her son back.
“I don’t need to go to the prison to visit him no more," she said.