Patani United Liberation Organisation or PULO is a Malay-Muslim separatist movement mainly operating in Southern Thailand. The group was founded by a Patani Malay scholar named Kabir Abdul Rahman in 1968. PULO views the Thai government as colonisers of their land, so they aim to establish an independent Patani and improve the living conditions of Malay Muslims. To achieve that goal, PULO carry out bombings and drive-by shootings that target anyone they think is working or allied with the central government. Since its establishment, PULO has grown into one of the biggest and most influential insurgencies in Southern Thailand (1).
History & Foundations
After the collapse of the Sultanate of Patani, there has been a growing negative sentiment among Malay Muslims toward the Thai Government due to alleged discrimination and inequality. This sentiment grew Kabir Abdul Rahman’s motivation to improve Malay Muslim’s living conditions and liberate them from the oppression of the Thai Government (2). Thus, Kabir formed the Patani United Liberation Organisation in 1968 based on those principles. Kabir would serve as the group’s leader from its founding till his death in 2008. Despite having Patani in its name, PULO operates in every Southern Thailand province including Yala, Satun, and Narathiwat. The operations in the area are divided into two; the first one is by way of violence and the second is by teaching lessons of the Quran and the history of the ethnic Malay Muslims.
PULO acts as an umbrella organisation for the insurgencies in Southern Thailand, acting as a bridge between Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and the National Liberation Front of Patani (NLFP) (3). The group also does not restrict the number of members and leaders that they have and tend to give its members the freedom to affiliate with groups outside of PULO (4).
During the 90s, PULO scattered into two factions which are the PULO Leadership Council, led by Dr. A-rong Muleng, and the PULO Army Command Council under the leadership of Hayihadi Mindosali (5). In 1998, Thai authorities arrested numerous PULO leaders for their terrorist activities in the past. Those arrests led to a drop in morale among its members, with many leaving PULO for good, while some even surrendered to the authorities in order to be granted amnesty (6). This rough period for the group triggered them to rethink their internal relations and recruiting tactics. Following this, terrorist activities in Southern Thailand dropped drastically.
Despite being almost crippled during the 90s and early 2000s, PULO would become more violent than ever before between the years 2004-2006 along with other Malay Muslim rebel groups. During that time terrorist attacks in the area averaged 58 per month or two daily attacks, with PULO being responsible for a handful of them (7). This revival of PULO was triggered by the Thai government shutting down an Islamic school named Jihad Wittaya in 2005 (8). It escalated even more when the Thai government began to confiscate the school’s land and assets in 2015. As a result, in 2016, terrorist attacks had a 42% increase (9).
Objectives & Ideology
Kabir Abdul Rahman perceived inequality and oppression in Southern Thailand to be caused by the Thai government. He also felt that the opposition groups were ineffective in establishing their goals and making a change for the Malay Muslim population. As a result, Kabir created PULO to improve the living conditions of the Malay Muslim people while establishing an independent state called Patani Darussalam (10).
PULO does not necessarily have an ideology in a traditional sense. Though they boast their ethnic and religious pride, it does not fall into the category of far-right ultra-nationalists or Islamist extremists either. Rather, they create their own ideology called Ubantapekma which is an abbreviation covering basic principles such as religion, ethnicity, homeland, and humanitarianism (11). These four principles have been the foundation for PULO’s whole operation. More importantly, this ideology resonates with the Malay Muslims in Southern Thailand, regardless of class or status. It has proven to be effective as, at their peak, PULO had managed to garner 350 loyal cadres (12). PULO itself claimed to have been backed by 20,000 cadres (13).
Approach to Resistance
For PULO, the way to be freed from the “shackles” of the Thai government is through armed struggle and guerilla tactics. They target anyone who is seen as a collaborator of the Thai Government such as schools, public servants, government officials, police stations, military posts, and Buddhist settlers (14). These attacks will mostly come in the form of bombings, drive-by shootings, or arson.
Most recently in April 2022, PULO broke the 40-day Ramadhan cease-fire that was initially agreed upon between the BRN and the Thai government. The group carried out two bombings in the Patani district of Sai Buri which killed a villager and injured three police bomb squad (15). The motivation behind the attack was based on dissatisfaction with how PULO was left out of peace talks with the Thai and Malaysian governments. Katsuri Mahkota, the current leader of PULO, told BenarNews that “today’s incidents were carried out by one of our five PULO operation units. It is to say that the Thai peace dialogue panel must negotiate with all groups. Patani doesn’t belong only to the BRN” (16). When the police arrived at the bombsite, they found a flyer with a picture of a black panther that was written “Daulat Tuanku; G5 Askar Di-Raja Patani”, which translates to “Long Live the King; G5 Patani Royal Army”, referencing the sultanate of Patani Darussalam (17). This attack proved to be significant as the PULO had not been active in the last decade. Their last attack was carried out in 2016.
PULO is also very active in negotiations with the Thai and Malaysian governments, most notably in the 2013 Kuala Lumpur Talks. That particular event marks the first time the Thai government ever agreed to formally hold peace talks with Southern Thailand’s insurgencies (18). Though BRN was chosen as the representative delegation, members of PULO would attend the talks and even be given two seats at the negotiating table (18). At first, only one of the PULO factions participated in the talks until the National Security Council (NSC) pushed for all three PULO factions to participate in further talks (19), all while emphasising that all Southern Thailand insurgent groups had to be involved in the peace talks.
Alliances & Relations
Since PULO acts as an umbrella organisation, it is split into different factions that consist of different leaders and serve a variety of roles. During its peak, PULO had 350 loyal cadres under its wing. For example, Dr. A-rong Muleng led the PULO Leadership Council with an armed unit called the Caddan Army (20). Other major factions include the PULO MKP, the current leader’s former faction, which is part of the MARA Pattani coalition that consists of six insurgent groups (21).
PULO has allegedly been given a blessing by Parti Islam SeMalaysia, where they are given a safe haven in the northern Malaysian province of Kelantan (22).
Since the Ramadhan bombings of 2022, PULO has tainted its relationship with the Thai government and possibly halted any peace talks in the future. However, those bombings also demonstrated that PULO still has the military capability to effectively carry out violent operations.
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - Chalk, Peter. “The Insurgency.” In The Malay-Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand--Understanding the Conflict’s Evolving Dynamic: RAND Counterinsurgency Study--Paper 5, 1st ed., 5–12. RAND Corporation, 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/op198osd.7.
(2) - Kusuma, Bayu Mitra A. 2016. “Patani United Liberation Organization: From Jihad to Local Politics Movement.” SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3424861.
(3) - Rahmah, Raudhatur. n.d. “Memelayukan Patani Kembali: Konflik Dan Gerakan Etnisitas Patani Di Thailand Selatan.” https://repository.ar-raniry.ac.id/id/eprint/14059/1/Raudhatur%20Rahmah%2C%20150308078%2C%20FUF%2C%20SA%2C%200822-9895-2667.pdf.
(4) - ibid
(6) - “Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO).” n.d. Www.globalsecurity.org. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/pulo.htm.
(7) - Chalk, Peter. “The Insurgency.” In The Malay-Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand--Understanding the Conflict’s Evolving Dynamic: RAND Counterinsurgency Study--Paper 5, 1st ed., 5–12. RAND Corporation, 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/op198osd.7.
(9) - Ibid
(10) - Kusuma, Bayu Mitra A. 2016. “Patani United Liberation Organization: From Jihad to Local Politics Movement.” SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3424861.
(11) - Rahmah, Raudhatur. n.d. “Memelayukan Patani Kembali: Konflik Dan Gerakan Etnisitas Patani Di Thailand Selatan.” https://repository.ar-raniry.ac.id/id/eprint/14059/1/Raudhatur%20Rahmah%2C%20150308078%2C%20FUF%2C%20SA%2C%200822-9895-2667.pdf.
(12) - Chalk, Peter. “The Insurgency.” In The Malay-Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand--Understanding the Conflict’s Evolving Dynamic: RAND Counterinsurgency Study--Paper 5, 1st ed., 5–12. RAND Corporation, 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/op198osd.7.
(13) - Ibid
(14) - Wilson, Chris, and Shahzad Akhtar. 2019. “Repression, Co-Optation and Insurgency: Pakistan’s FATA, Southern Thailand and Papua, Indonesia.” Third World Quarterly 40 (4): 710–26. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2018.1557012.
(15) - Abhasakun, Tara. 2022. “Southern Thailand Ceasefire Shattered with Another Fatal Bombing.” Thaiger. April 16, 2022. https://thethaiger.com/news/south/southern-thailand-peacefire-shattered-with-another-fatal-bombing.
(16) - Ahmad, Mariyam. 2022. “Sidelined in Peace Talks, PULO Rebels Claim Responsibility for Deep South Bombing.” Benar News. April 15, 2022. https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/thai/pulo-rebels-attack-04152022154055.html.
(17) - Ibid
(18) - Sithraputhran, Siva, and Stuart Grudgings. 2013. “Thailand Agrees to Talks with Southern Muslim Rebels.” Reuters, February 28, 2013, sec. Emerging Markets. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-south-idUSBRE91R05820130228.
(19) - McDermott, Gerard. “The 2013 Kuala Lumpur Talks: A Step Forward for Southern Thailand.” Peace Research 46, no. 1 (2014): 5–34. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24896051.
(20) - Ibid
(21) - “Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO).” n.d. Www.globalsecurity.org. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/pulo.htm.
(23) - Chalk, Peter. “The Insurgency.” In The Malay-Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand--Understanding the Conflict’s Evolving Dynamic: RAND Counterinsurgency Study--Paper 5, 1st ed., 5–12. RAND Corporation, 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/op198osd.7.