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  • Writer's pictureManushya Foundation

#WhatsHappeningInThailand 🌏Two decades since the Pileng Camp robbery: Was this the spark that ignited Southern Thailand's unrest?



Today marks the 20th anniversary of the 2004 Pileng Camp firearms heist incident in Narathiwat Province, Southern Thailand. Many view this event as the spark that ignited the ongoing unrest in Thailand’s southern border provinces.


What happened?


On January 4th, 2004, 413 firearms were robbed by unknown perpetrators from the 4th Development Battalion of the Pileng Military Camp, located in Narathiwat Province, one of Thailand’s southern border states. Four soldiers were killed during the 20-minute-long firearms heist.


Authorities who were sent to catch the perpetrators were met with many obstacles. For one, the perpetrators had seemingly scattered sailboat nails all over the road, making it difficult for the authorities to catch up with them. While the Pileng incident was happening, a series of arson attacks were carried out at 20 schools elsewhere across Narathiwat Province. This caused many to believe that all these incidents were coordinated. Additionally, other violent attacks also occurred across the Southern Thai provinces during this period. For example, bombings took place in Pattani Province, and a police station raid took place in the Betong District of Yala Province. All these diversions overwhelmed the authorities, allowing all the perpetrators to ultimately escape capture and repercussions.


Southern Thailand is known for its large Thai-Muslim population, significant especially when compared to the overwhelming Buddhist majority of the Thai nation as a whole. The region is also home to diverse and prominent populations of non-Tai ethnic groups, such as the Malay peoples. The people of this area have experienced a long history of identity-based discrimination and systemic injustices at the hands of the Thai central government.


The disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit, the lawyer of five individuals accused of conducting the Pileng Camp heist


Five Muslim individuals were accused of perpetrating the Pileng Camp robbery. Somchai Neelapaijit, a Thai-Muslim himself, became the lawyer who represented the five individuals. He accused the police of using various forms of harassment and abuse against them in order to force confessions. These included beatings, urinating on their faces, electrocutions of their bodies and genitals, and other forms of violent coercion. Lawyer Somchai filed a complaint to court officials, asking them to move the five accused individuals under the supervision of the prison system, instead of the police.


Alongside his work on the Pileng Camp case, Lawyer Somchai was also in the process of gathering petition signatures to demand that the government lift its martial law declaration over the Thai southern border states. According to the Thai Constitution of 1997, petitioning was a necessary procedure in order to have the people’s demands acknowledged.


Yet Lawyer Somchai was never able to complete his tasks, as on March 12, 2004, he ‘disappeared.’ Many have speculated that this was a forced disappearance.


The Pileng Camp robbery case is thought to have been the spark that ignited a new wave of unrest in Thailand’s southern border provinces, with implications lasting up until this day.


✊Manushya stands in solidarity with the people of Southern Thailand, and will continue to amplify their stories and demands for justice in their lands. True peace can only be achieved when true justice is served. ✊


Sources: Thairath, King Prajadhipok Institute (สถาบันพระปกเกล้า)


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