Blasts are most likely the work of the BRN

Blasts are most likely the work of the BRN

The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) or National Revolutionary Front was originally founded on March 13, 1963. It has used several different flags but only one logo. (File images)
The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) or National Revolutionary Front was originally founded on March 13, 1963. It has used several different flags but only one logo. (File images)

Even though it hasn't claimed responsibility, there are grounds to believe the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) carried out the coordinated bombings and arson attacks last week in Prachuap Khiri Khan and six southern provinces.

This is not the first time the clandestine separatist movement has carried out bombings. Its aim is to damage the credibility of the Thai Buddhist state and to flaunt its prowess, which so far is underrated by Thai security agencies.

The BRN wanted to direct its messages to the political elites and the military in particular. They're not bothered if the public or media think otherwise. And they don't care whether Thailand has an elected government or junta regime.

There were nine explosions on Dec 30, 2006 in downtown Bangkok amid the festive season. This happened during the coup-installed government of Surayud Chulanont.

Achara Ashayagachat is Senior News Reporter, Bangkok Post.

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in September that year, was swiftly blamed by his successor. Then PM Surayud dismissed the idea of it being the work of southern insurgents, who "would likely get lost in the capital".

During the Yingluck administration, unexploded bombs were found on the resort island of Phuket in December 2013. Her government launched a peace dialogue with separatists in February that year.

Despite the strong grip on power by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) from 2014, there were bombings in Samui in April last year. The military quickly pointed the finger at Thaksin. But later, two Malay Muslims were prosecuted as police found two stolen pickups from Songkhla and Narathiwat had been used as car bombs in the blasts.

Military intelligence who have studied the BRN's activities for the past decade noted a series of school arson attacks in 1993 during the Chuan administration were the first coordinated strikes by the group to test its capability.

A former bomb maker for the BRN told the Bangkok Post that three attacks in three different provinces had been considered but only the military weapons heist on Jan 4, 2004 was successful.

We have, however, witnessed intensified arson attacks, shootings and bombings throughout the past decade in the deep South anyway. There have been more than 6,700 deaths with double that number of injuries.

But the Aug 11-12 bombings in seven provinces were perhaps an upgraded exercise by the BRN to echo the same message to the Thai elites and army that "I don't want you", after the public rejected the draft charter and the second question that empowers a junta-nominated senate to select a premier.

"I believe it's the work of the BRN, just to underscore the referendum vote that they wanted the military off their land," said Tuwaedaniya Tuwaemae-gae, director of Lempar-Academy of Pataniraya for Peace and Development.

Mr Tuwaedaniya, based in Pattani, was not convinced by the authorities' hypothesis that it was "other" political motives.

"These provinces are tourist and entertainment places -- economic bases of the mafia military, why would they destroy their own rice bowl?" Mr Tuwaedaniya said.

He noted that the BRN certainly wanted people to reject the "Siamese-owned project" of creating a supreme law for the "Patani people". That was why a there was a spate of bombings with anti-charter slogans painted on roads a week before the Aug 7 vote.

"As the military kept a close watch on them, they dared not vote 'no'. What they could do was invalidate the ballots. Those with good excuses could just opt not to vote," the activist said.

In Pattani, 62.2% of 468,173 eligible voters turned up on referendum day. About 56-58% voted against the draft and the extra question, while 7.4% (21,654 ballots) were invalid.

In Yala, 6.5% of ballots cast by 228,889 voters were dud. Just more than half of Yala voters opposed the charter while 35% of eligible voters didn't show up.

In Narathiwat, where 66% of 517,803 eligible voters turned up, 7% of ballots were invalid. The rate of spoiled ballots doubled in the South.

Mr Tuwaedaniya said the reasons behind the "no" vote stemmed from the influences of religious leaders with dual roles as owners and administrators of private schools in the southernmost provinces.

"Currently, they've got annual subsidies for 15 years and the charter will fix free schooling at 12 years. Who wouldn't be disturbed?" said the Pattani-based activist.

He dismissed the influence of old-style politicians, including the Wadah faction.

Of the false ballots in the southernmost provinces some were marked with the word merdeka (independence) or ekkarat in Thai, senior police sources said.

While Mr Tuwaedaniya said the referendum was a real test and a step forward for when the "Patani people" could achieve a similar project of self-determination, military intelligence was still optimistic that the BRN was not ready for that ultimate goal.

"If they want to win through democratic means, they need to get absolute majority votes for their self-determination projects," the military sources said.

Sources also rebutted the notion that the Aug 11-12 bombings would push the Thai government to re-engage more enthusiastically in the peace dialogue with the Mara Patani umbrella group. Instead, it would yield opposite results, they said.

"Mara didn't represent the militant wing from day one, so why would the Thais bother listen to them again as it clearly shows this time that they can't control anything?" the sources said.

Yet, Mara sources believed the Thai government would be forced to act in the aftermath of the bombings and Mara might enjoy a windfall from this.

Before the August attacks, Thailand's technical team had a three-hour meeting with Mara counterparts at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. The meeting, the first after the removal of a negotiating team member, Narkrob Bunbuathong, was conducted in an "introductory nature".

Other critics insisted it was military groups that masterminded the attacks for different reasons.

Anthony Davis, an analyst with security consultancy IHS-Jane's, said the suggestion that a well-organised group in the military would kill innocent Thai civilians and sabotage the national economy to undermine or discredit another faction struck him as ludicrous.

"There is simply no evidence of rifts within the army serious enough to provoke that sort of violent reaction -- least of all on the Queen's birthday," he said.

One officer said: "What we see now is just the tip of the iceberg. At least we know their [BRN] capacity is huge. Now the question is how much and how swiftly the Thai authorities can synchronise strategies to address the issue and not politicise it again."

Achara Ashayagachat

Senior reporter on socio-political issues

Bangkok Post's senior reporter on socio-political issues.

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