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Maintaining Peace in a

Neighborhood Torn by Separatism

The Case of
Satun Province

Thomas Parks

Southeast Asia Studies

School for Advanced International Studies
Johns Hopkins University

Presentation Topics
Introduction & Research Overview
Satun: Infertile Ground for Separatism
Satuns Unique Characteristics

Lack of Malay identity

Thai Fluency
Geographic Isolation
Muslims-Buddhist Relations

Historical Factors

Benign neglect of the Thai Government

Satun Muslim elites cooperate with Government
Vulnerable existence in peripheral region
Lack of alternative Malay history

Research Questions
1) How is Satun different from Pattani region?
2) How do these differences explain the lack of
separatism in Satun?
Why Satun matters?
Similarities between Satun and Pattani, Yala,
Narathiwat history, Islam, 1909 treaty
Separatism in every other border province
Yet, Satun has never had separatist-related
violence or major separatist activity

Research Team

Includes Muslim Resident

of Satun (from Langu)

24 interviews in Satun - July-Aug 2005:

Satun Meung district, LaNgu, Ban Chalung, Khuan Don, Ban Chebilang,
Ban Ketree, and Ko Ya Ra Tot Yai (Ko Sarai)

66 residents of Satun interviewed:

Muslim and Buddhist community leaders

Academics and historians from Satun
Teachers, school administrators, and local government officials
Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders
Business owners, farmers and fishermen

Satun Province today:
278,876 residents
70% Muslim
More than 99% speak
2,478.9 square
Before 1909, Satun was northern
region of the Kedah Sultanate

Source: Prawatsaat Meung

Satun, Boonserm

Most major towns and islands have Malay

names: Satun (Setol), Langu, Tarutao, Chebilang

Infertile Ground for Separatism

Some reports of separatist activities in past, but
always by external groups
Recent reports of fundamentalist groups recruiting
in Satun, dakwah coming from other provinces

Infertile Ground for Separatism

Local Muslim population rejects these outsiders
No evidence of homegrown separatist movement
Satun Muslims deeply concerned about Pattani,
and generally critical of government policy However, separatist movement finds little
support in Satun

Satun Inclusion in Patani Raya?

Satun is often included in description of Greater
Pattani Region:
Ibrahim Syukri, Malay Kingdom of Patani
Wan Kadir Che Man
Haji Sulongs seven demands in 1947
Statements by GAMPAR, PULO, BRN
Debate of Four Southern Provinces vs. Three
Southern Provinces
Scholars have been inconsistent

Map of Greater Pattani Region

As described by some Malay-Muslim leaders, which includes

Satun, from Islamic Review & Arab Affairs, Nov-Dec 1969

Surin Pitsuwan, Islam &
Malay Nationalism, 1985

Satun - Distinct from Pattani Region

Grouping Satun with other provinces is
misleading, and ignores some basic differences
100 Years ago - Satun was quite similar to
Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, in terms of language,
culture, identity, and history
Today - Satun is remarkably different from
Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat

Satuns Unique Characteristic

Research found Satun has distinct characteristics
in 4 important areas:
1) Lack of Malay identity
2) More than 99% speak Thai
3) Non-porous border and few linkages with
Muslims in Malaysia and other border
4) Integration and long history of peaceful
relations between Muslims and Buddhists

Lack of Malay Identity

Satun Muslims consider
themselves Thai, not MalayMuslim
Even those groups more likely to
hold Malay identity all
interviewees claim Thai identity:
Muslims who speak Malay as
first language
Descendants of Kedah elite
Ponoh teachers

Lack of Malay Identity

Satun Muslims disconnected from Malay-Muslim
political discourse and sensitivities
Thai-Muslim or Thai-Islam
Contrast with Pattani/Yala/Narathiwat, where
Malay identity remains in significant portion of

Widespread Fluency in Thai

99% of the population fluent in Thai
Satun Muslims who speak Malay as first language
(10%-15% of population) usually bilingual
Satun Muslims avoid conflict by speaking Thai:
Surin Pitsuwan argument
Teaching of Thai not politicized as in Pattani
Ability to participate in Thai politics
Ability to communicate with government
officials and Bangkok

Inland Areas
Ban Khuan

Coastal Areas
Tanyong Po

Ban Khuan
Tanyong Po

Transition from Malay to Thai Language

1900 - 80% Satun population speaks Malay only
Thai-language schools opened, beginning 1910
No resistance to Thai

Local Muslim elite

supported Thai schools
First public schools in
Perceived by Satun
Muslims as sign of
progress and

Transition from Malay to Thai Language

Case Study:
Muslim Family
Ko Yaratot Yai
(Ko Sarai)

Few External Linkages to Malay World

Compared to Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat,
Satun has been very isolated
Non-porous border Mountain range as barrier
Few linkages between Satun Muslim community
and Muslim communities in Malaysia and
Southern Thailand
Dual citizenship is rare

Source: 1932 map in National Museum of Songkhla


Muslim-Buddhist Relations
Integration of Muslim and Buddhist communities
Live side-by-side
Very few Buddhist-only villages
Remarkable contrast with segregation in
Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat
Long history of peaceful relations
Local population proud of peaceful history
Some interviewees report growing separation
between Muslims and Buddhists in Satun

Historical Explanations
Historical factors that explain Satuns stability and
1) Benign neglect of the Thai Government
2) Satun Malay-Muslim elites choice of
cooperation over resistance
3) Vulnerable existence along the periphery of
multiple power centers
4) Lack of alternative Malay history

Benign Neglect of Thai Government

Mutually beneficial, cooperative relationship
between Satun Muslim elite and Siamese/Thai
Thai Government allows Malay-Muslim elite
in Satun to retain their positions in local
Thai Government allows greater autonomy to
Satun, and applies less pressure to assimilate
No major Siamese/Thai military presence in Satun

Benign Neglect of Thai Government

1902-1932 Very different experiences:
Pattani is going through turbulent transition from
local rule to direct Siamese rule (local
administration by Thai-Buddhist civil servants)
Satun has generally smooth transition, as local
elites are allowed to stay in power, and local
population welcomes the new development
projects (schools, infrastructure)

Benign Neglect of Thai Government

Benign neglect or enlightened policy?
Satun not considered a threat, so Bangkok has
much less concern and devotes less attention
(compared to Pattani)
Government has hands full dealing with Pattani
Cooperative local elite with connections to
Bangkok AND legitimacy in local population

Satuns Muslim Elites (1902 to 1932)

Satuns Muslim elites have incentive to
cooperate with Siamese authorities
Satuns Muslim elites retain their role in local
government during transition period, and
eventually enter national politics
In Pattani, Siamese Government removes MalayMuslim elites from power ousted elite becomes
leadership for separatism and resistance

Satuns Muslim Elites

Comparison of Satun elites and Pattani elites in
1902 reveals important differences:
Pattani Muslim elites
400 years of local rule
Native to Pattani
Local legitimacy
Considered a threat by

Satun Muslim elites

No precedent of local
Non-native (sent from
Dependent on Siam for
Acceptable to Bangkok
AND local Muslim

Peripheral Region
Satun always on the periphery of external powers
Constant vulnerability leads to flexible loyalties Satuns leaders pledge loyalty to most powerful
neighbor (or neighbors) to avoid invasion
Satun cut off from Kedah, very difficult to defend
Satun must adapt to Siamese presence, because
they have no choice
Pattani a major power center in itself

Peripheral Region
Satuns population influenced heavily by Thai and
Malay neighbors
Blending of cultures evident in the Sam-Sam
people (a Thai-speaking Muslim community)
After Satun annexed by Siam, much easier for
Satun Muslim population to adapt

Lack of Alternative Malay History

Malay version of history is a foundation of the
separatist movement
Past glory Cradle of Islam, trading center
Malay language historical works capture the
history of Patani Sultanate Hikayat Patani
and History of the Malay Kingdom of Patani
No knowledge or sense of Malay history
No information on Malay past
Thai version of history widely accepted
Belief that Satun has always been part of Siam

Lack of Alternative Malay History

Kedahs version of history:
Less confrontational with Siam, than Patani
Belief that Kedah-Ayuthaya royal families
have familial ties
Bunga Emas (tribute to Siam) was a sign of
friendship and alliance not submission
Very little mention of Satun
During Satuns formative years (1811-1932), the
region was firmly under Siamese control and

Satun Muslims successfully adapt to Thai rule,
and have integrated into Thai political system
Thai Government facilitated Satun integration
Providing autonomy for local governance
Preventing heavy-handed measures
Allowing local Muslim elites to maintain their
influence at critical transition
Thai Government policy in Pattani backfires
Far more pressure on Pattani to assimilate, yet
ironically, Satun today is more integrated

Relevance of
of Satun
Satun for
for conflict
conflict in
in southern
southern Thailand
Key decisions
decisions and
and events
events took
took place
place 100
100 years
Satun and
and Pattani
Pattani had
had very
very different
different situations
prior to
to 1909
Lessons from
from Satuns
Satuns experience:
Must avoid
avoid heavy-handed
heavy-handed measures
measures and
and forced
assimilation policies
Importance of
of working
working with
with local
local minority
minority elites
Muslim minorities
minorities can
can their
their place
place in
in the
the Thai
society under
under the
the right
right conditions