Special Report: Life beyond checkpoints in Southern Thailand

In Thailand's deep south, villagers go about their daily lives in the midst of bunkers and bombs. Fourteen years after a separatist insurgency flared up, Straits Times journalists Tan Hui Yee and Arlina Arshad traverse the high-security region.
Art gallery founder Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh says Malays in Pattani province are upset when officials see identity as a zero-sum game, suspecting people who espouse their Malay identity as having separatist leanings.
Art gallery founder Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh says Malays in Pattani province are upset when officials see identity as a zero-sum game, suspecting people who espouse their Malay identity as having separatist leanings. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD
Above: Soldiers in armoured vehicles on the highway to Betong in south Thailand. Left: Members of the National Defence Volunteers Organisation at a checkpoint in Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat province.
Soldiers in armoured vehicles on the highway to Betong in south Thailand. ST PHOTOS: ARLINA ARSHAD, TAN HUI YEE
Above: Soldiers in armoured vehicles on the highway to Betong in south Thailand. Left: Members of the National Defence Volunteers Organisation at a checkpoint in Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat province.
Members of the National Defence Volunteers Organisation at a checkpoint in Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat province.ST PHOTOS: ARLINA ARSHAD, TAN HUI YEE
Residents at a recent Hari Raya concert in Betong, desensitised to the deterrent military presence. Officials say the presence of paramilitaries has only strengthened the local economy.
Residents at a recent Hari Raya concert in Betong, desensitised to the deterrent military presence. Officials say the presence of paramilitaries has only strengthened the local economy. ST PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE
Entrepreneur Nuraini Muhi hit upon a winning idea when she started making pizzas at a streetside stall on the edge of Yala city using portable ovens one year ago. It proved to be so popular that customers placed bulk orders via Facebook and people ap
Entrepreneur Nuraini Muhi hit upon a winning idea when she started making pizzas at a streetside stall on the edge of Yala city using portable ovens one year ago. It proved to be so popular that customers placed bulk orders via Facebook and people approached her to be franchisees. Today, another 10 Pizza Fah and Farus outlets have sprung up all over the deep south. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD
Ms Rahayu Merah, who guards Narathiwat’s city hall, used to be a seamstress. Mr Abusahed Nor, who belongs to a special task force in the Volunteer Defence Corps, sleeps with a gun under his pillow.
Ms Rahayu Merah, who guards Narathiwat’s city hall, used to be a seamstress. Mr Abusahed Nor, who belongs to a special task force in the Volunteer Defence Corps, sleeps with a gun under his pillow. ST PHOTOS: TAN HUI YEE, ARLINA ARSHAD
Ethnic Malay artist Waearong Waeno with his artwork depicting a scene at Yala Railway Station on the bollards which buffer shopfronts from car bombs.
Ethnic Malay artist Waearong Waeno with his artwork depicting a scene at Yala Railway Station on the bollards which buffer shopfronts from car bombs. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

IN THE SHADOW OF WAR: It has been 14 years since separatist insurgents struck in Thailand's southern provinces. But there is business to be done, art to be produced and a new airport is being built, The Straits Times uncovers in the first of a two-part report.

We slow our car as it approaches one of Yala city's many checkpoints, the mugshots of wanted men glaring from a nearby poster.

A policeman motions for us to proceed. Then he spots our backseat passenger, Mr Waearong Waeno, an ethnic Malay artist who wears his snowy beard long, with unruly hair peeking out from under a beanie.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2018, with the headline 'Life beyond checkpoints'. Print Edition | Subscribe