In May 2021, Thai security forces were in a three-hour standoff with two Malay-Muslim separatist insurgents in a small remote village in the southernmost border province of Yala. As they stood their ground, the two combatants made video calls to family and friends to bid farewell. Someone began recording one of the calls on another cellphone. Soon, footage of the two men, who were killed in the operation, was circulating on social media.
Thailand’s southernmost region is home to one of Asia’s longest-running armed conflicts. A separatist movement that emerged in the 1960s sought to carve out the Muslim-majority region as an independent state. Levels of violence have oscillated over the course of the conflict, with the most recent insurgency arising in the early 2000s. Despite decades of protracted armed conflict, there is recent cause for optimism.
In recent months a largely leaderless movement comprised of young people has ushered in a new phase in Thailand’s political struggle, successfully putting the government and monarchy on the back foot....