Southern independence referendum movement watched
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Southern independence referendum movement watched

Security agencies say student movement advocating ‘Patani State’ could be breaking the law

Soldiers man a security checkpoint near the city gate in Pattani municipality. (Post File Photo)
Soldiers man a security checkpoint near the city gate in Pattani municipality. (Post File Photo)

Security agencies are keeping a close watch on a group that has called for a public referendum on the independence of “Patani State” from Thailand, because doing so is tantamount to an act of separatism and unlawful, says the deputy commander of the 4th Army Region.

Maj Gen Pramote Prom-in said the referendum call was raised during an event held to introduce the “National Student Movement” or “Pelajar Bangsa” of the four southern border provinces, on the Pattani campus of Prince of Songkla University on Wednesday.

Although the students have the right to express their opinions, they should be careful not to transgress the laws and territorial sovereignty of the country, said Maj Gen Pramote, adding that security agencies had been keeping their activities under watch.

Maj Gen Pramote said the authorities are duty-bound to make people in society understand that such an expression of opinion was inappropriate, considering the sensitivity over security in the region that has long been plagued with insurgency.

The legal office of the 4th Army Region, which is responsible for the South, is considering taking legal action against the student movement, he added.

Maj Gen Pramote said that calling for a public referendum for the independence of “Patani State” (the spelling preferred by the movement) from Thailand is an act of separatism and prohibited by the law. Section 1 of the 2017 constitution stipulates that “Thailand is one and indivisible Kingdom”.

The Pelajar Bangsa movement is led by Irfan Uma. It was formed after the Federation of Patani students, or PerMAS, was dissolved on Nov 8, 2022.

The group organised a panel discussion on the “Right to Self-Determination” on Wednesday. The panelists included Assoc Prof Mark Tamthai of Payap University in Chiang Mai; Voravit Baru, an MP-elect for Pattani and deputy leader of the Prachachart Party; and Hakim Pongtiko, deputy secretary-general of the Fair Party, which has one member in the new coalition led by the Move Forward Party.

Local reports said that participants did not explicitly call for a referendum. But a placard put up at the venue said: “Do you agree with the right to self-determination or not, allowing the people of Patani to be able to legally vote in a referendum for independence?” with spaces for people to mark whether they agree or disagree.

Since January 2004, the southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, and occasionally Songkhla, have been the scene of sectarian armed conflict that has claimed over 7,000 lives, about 90% of them civilians.

The caretaker government has affirmed that it will continue its policy of negotiating for peace in the deep South despite the recent Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu-Patani (BRN) announcement that it would suspend peace talks until a new administration is formed.

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