After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 and the reestablishment of a Thai state in the delta of the Chao Phraya River in 1782, the 'new' Bangkok / Siamese empire expanded continuously in the 19th century to the north, the east and the south. In the south, Siamese armies conquered most of the Malay Peninsula, until deep inside what is nowadays Malaysia. That made the new Siamese state ruling over muslim populations with ethnic Malay roots.
The British colonialists took parts of these provinces over in the early 20th century. Langkawi and Perlis, for example, were Siamese for a time, but were given to the superior British empire at their demand. But still Siam hold and helds parts of Malay territory. That's what nowadays are the three provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani. They were an independend sultanate in former times. In other southern Thai provinces of Songkhla, Satun and Trang are still big muslim / Malay minorities living. But these provinces are peaceful. There is insurrection only in the three provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.
So, there is a long history of the conflict in the background. In 2004 a still unknown underground group captured hundreds of arms when raiding a weapon depot in Narathiwat. The Thai state reacted with a 'hard hand'. The conflict escalated. Since then there are 5,243 dead and 9,000 wounded among the victims. That's at least the official numbers, counting the losses in the last eight years.
Since then the area is unsafe. In early 2005 I went from Hat Yai to Kota Baru at the east coast of Malaysia on a bus, crossing the three provinces. The atmosphere was spooky. Everywhere the roads were blocked and military posts in machine gun nests, covered by sand sacks, controlled the roads and checked the vehicles.
Everybody who works here for the Thai state is threatened by violence from the underground, and civilians always risk to get involved in violent attacks or getting hurt or killed in a bomb explosion. On the other hand particularly muslim clergyman come often in trouble with the Thai army for minor reasons or no particular reason at all.
Who is behind the underground activities is actually not well known. At least not by the public. There are several groups named and held responsible for activities, but there is little known about who they actually are, how big they are and what for resources they have. Thai officials claim connections to Al Quaeda - but is that true?
The goal of the resistance is obviously the independence of the three provinces from Thailand. It's intended that the Thai state withdraws, and with it the dominance of Thai authority and restrictions, who are seen as foreign. And they have a good point. In fact these provinces can be seen as occupied territory.
And how does the future looks? It looks bad. There is no political solution in sight, and obviously the army is not able to solve any problem. Violence does not decrease when the Thai state sends only more troops into the region. It's a dirty war which is not to win.
Besides, the conflict cost the Thai state already 161 Billion Baht (4 billion euros). 70 % of the amount was put into military efforts, smaller portions in various other projects.