Thailand launches surveillance of BRN rebels ahead of APEC meetings

Mariyam Ahmad and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Pattani, Thailand, and Bangkok
Thailand launches surveillance of BRN rebels ahead of APEC meetings Forensic police investigators gather evidence at the site of a small explosion in Bangkok, Aug. 2, 2019.
Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Thai authorities have arrested several suspected “bombers” in the Deep South and are setting up a post there to track and intercept insurgents who may be plotting potential attacks as Thailand prepares to host APEC meetings, officials and sources said.

Officials said security agencies had doubled the number of field officers in the heavily militarized southern border region ahead of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation 2022 meetings, which are set to take place in Bangkok from Nov.  14 to 19.

Their efforts already have led to the capture and arrests of suspected insurgents capable of setting off bombs in and around the capital city – the most recent arrest occurring on Sept. 7, according to a security source.

The APEC meetings will be the first high-level international gathering in the Thai capital since members of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebel group in the Deep South were blamed for a series of bombings in Bangkok during an ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in August 2019.

“[I] anticipate they will have less chances to launch attacks because several bombers in Pattani were arrested,” an intelligence officer, who asked to remain anonymous because of the nature of his work, told BenarNews.

“There are three individuals on the run – namely Seri Waemamu, Manasae Saidi and Usman Pohloh – but we have to be careful of rookies who have no criminal records.”  

Lt. Gen. Santi Sakuntanak, the army chief in the Deep South, said counter-insurgent surveillance operations would include the use of CCTV cameras.

“[We] set up a monitoring center to focus on the border, set up check points, especially around railway stations, bus terminals and airports,” Santi told reporters on Friday. “We coordinate with other agencies to protect cities and tourist destinations.”

Bangkok is to host top leaders or their deputies from 19 countries along with Taiwan and Hong Kong. Chinese President Xi Jinping is to join the APEC meetings, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha confirmed.

Because Xi’s strategic rival, U.S. President Joe Biden, is to attend his niece’s wedding, Vice President Kamala Harris will represent the United States in Biden’s place.

2019 attack

On Aug. 2, 2019, at least seven people were injured when nine small bombs planted in front of the national police bureau and other locations in and around Bangkok exploded. The bureau was a few hundred yards from the venue where then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo along with Chinese diplomats were attending the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting.

Shortly after the blasts, police announced that two suspects from the Deep South had been arrested and warrants were issued for four others. Thai officials blamed BRN for the bombings while BRN leaders said their group was not involved.

On Friday, Thai government’s chief security adviser said there had been no signs of disturbances in advance of the APEC meeting.

“In the big picture, there is nothing of imminent concern, but some rebel rookies,” security chief Panitan Wattanayagorn told BenarNews. “No signs of a possible attack yet.”

Meanwhile, a member of BRN’s political wing who asked to remain anonymous has said that violence is the only way to pressure the government into resume peace negotiations.

A round of talks scheduled for October was postponed and could occur sometime after the Malaysia general election on Nov. 19. Malaysia has served as a facilitator for the talks.

In a statement sent to BenarNews on Oct. 18, BRN negotiators said they were pursuing peace efforts with total commitment and want “a lasting political settlement, one which is dignified and leads to sustainable and genuine peace.”

However, such cases of abductions, killings, and other abuses experienced by BRN members “clearly erode the trust and confidence in the peace process.”

The statement came at the same time that BRN announced that a corpse found floating in the Kolok River along the border with Malaysia belonged to a military wing member who apparently was abducted in late September.

BRN and his family have identified the dead man as Zahri Bin Abdullah (also known as Yahree Dueloh) while the Thai military has said it is not him and DNA test results have not been released.

Thai officials and BRN began negotiations in early 2020 – following years of talks between the government and MARA Patani, an umbrella group that brought together Deep South insurgent groups, including BRN.

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.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.