11 July 2024

Security agencies are probing the activities of a group of students who are calling for a referendum on self-determination for the three southernmost provinces of Thailand, a senior army official said on Friday.

The call was made in a statement issued by the so-called Patanian Student Movement (Pelajar Bangsa) on Wednesday, during a public forum on violence in southern Thailand held at Prince of Songkhla University (Pattani). Also attending were representatives from political parties advocating a sweeping approach in tackling the decades-long conflict.

The students claimed to represent people who believe in “Patani nationhood” and are seeking self-determination. 

“We will campaign for the existence of Patani nationhood and for a referendum that will lead to peace that is owned by the people,” said the statement read out by the students. A video clip of the students reading out the statement was also posted on the group’s Facebook page, which triggered a heated debate on social media. 

The term Patani is used by local people to refer to the three southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, as well as certain districts of neighbouring Songkhla.

During the forum, the students organised a mock referendum on whether “Patani people” should have the right to self-determination and have a referendum on independence within the framework of the law.  

Representatives from two political parties, Prachachart and Pentham (Fair), attended the forum. They are among the eight parties forming a coalition under the leadership of Move Forward and favour a more drastic approach in tackling conflicts in the region. 

Maj Gen Pramote Prom-in, deputy commander of the Fourth Army Region in southern Thailand, said security agencies are investigating the activities of the students and the content of the statement.

“The probe is to find out whether it goes against the law or not,” he said, referring to the Constitution, which states that “Thailand is a single and indivisible Kingdom.”

Ekkarin Tuansiri of the Political Science Faculty of Prince of Songkhla University (Pattani), said the students’ campaign represents the desire of the local people in general to see peace in the region.

“Having this kind of conversation should be seen as something normal. The students are just echoing what the people think,” he said. 

Defending the students’ activities, he said university campuses should be allowed to serve as fora in which to debate sensitive issues. 

He also called on political parties to find a common stand on the issue.

Speaking to Thai PBS, a member of Pelajar Bangsa denied that the students are seeking independence for the three southern provinces. “The objective of the whole activity is to serve as a platform for a dialogue for peace,” said the student, who declined to be identified.

He insisted that the mock referendum was aimed at sounding out people’s opinions on whether they are in favour of a referendum on independence within the legal framework. “We are not asking whether they want the region to separate to become an independent state,” he said.

He said the Pelajar Bangsa is a student movement, formed about a year ago by young people who want to campaign for peace in the region. “Our goal is not separation or independence for the region,” he said.