Deep South: Tragedy at Thung Yang Daeng

Suhaimi Senlae was one of the four unarmed civilian young men killed during a raid in Tung Yang Dang District of restive southern border province of Pattani in late March. Local people say he merely enjoyed himself with drugs when he was brutally shot dead by the authorities. Areeda Samoe, from the Network of Civil Society Women in the Deep South, talked to the family of Suhaimi.  
 
It has been a week since the interviewer visited the family of Suhaimi, one of the four youths shot dead in a raid in Tung Yang Daeng District of Pattani. 22 men and a 63-year-old woman were also detained after the incident. Two of the four dead are students of Fatoni University, formerly known as the Yala Islamic University. Asst Prof Dr. Ismail Lutfi Japakiya, Rector of Fatoni University and also a respected academic in Islamic studies, has actively defended the two students and two others who were brutally killed by the military.    
 
Suhaimi has had less focus in the media since he is not a university student and there are reports that he was a drug addict. 
 
Suhaimi, 32, had six brothers and sisters. Suhaimi was the eldest son. The family has only two sons, Suhaimi and the youngest, 15 years old. Two sisters are in school, two are married and another is looking for a job. The parents are rubber tappers and garbage recyclers.
 
Lina Senlae, 27, is the third child of the Senlae family. She is the only one who holds a university degree. Still, it is very difficult for her to find a teaching job in a school since she does not hold a degree in pedagogy. 
 
"I once worked in the human resources department at a resort in Krabi Province for a year, but I always had an urge to come home because there was only my late brother to take care of mom, dad and grandma. I decided to come home and find work near home to share the burden of my brother," Lina said.  
 
Areeda Samoe, from the Network of Civil Society Women in the Deep South, talked to two sisters of Suhaimi Senlae
 
The fourth child, Mona, 24, almost could not finish school because the family is destitute. She passed the entrance examination to three colleges in the South but decided not to enrol or abandoned her studies after a year because the family could not support her and some colleges are far from home. She finally graduated from a community college in the southern border province of Yala, which offers a weekend-only programme with cheap tuition fees. Having only a diploma in primary education does not help her much in the job market, so she wants to pursue a bachelor’s degree. 
 
Mona said her eldest brother was everything to the younger brothers and sisters. Although he seemed to be very quiet, he did his best to take care of them. 
 
Lina said Suhaimi had a diploma in business management from Yala Polytechnic College. After graduation, he worked as a contract employee of Thung Yang Daeng District which paid him 4,500 baht a month. After the contract ended, he got a job with the Agricultural Cooperative of Talubo Sub-district of Pattani's Mueang District. He travelled back and forth between Talubo and Thung Yang Daeng for a few months before deciding to resign and seek a new job in Yala, which is closer to Thung Yang Daeng.  Sadly, he was killed before he got a new job. 
 
Lina said many people visited the family during the first few days after the incident. Most of them were from the state military and authorities. 
 
"The soldiers in green uniforms came on the first day. They came to say that it's not their unit who killed my brother, but others, an outside unit." They explained that outsiders did not cooperate with them and this led to the mistake. 
 
The soldiers in green uniforms gave the family a sack of rice and never came back.
 
The days afterwards, Lina said, military personnel from the 41th Paramilitary Ranger Camp in Yala came almost every day and left the house in the evening. 
 
The two sisters said the visits of the military reminded them how brutally their brother was killed. Whenever the soldiers come, they would hide inside the house. Only their father welcomed the visitors. 
 
"Whenever I see military uniforms, I will inevitably think of how brutally my brother died. I can’t come to terms with it.  I don't want to see them," Lina said. 
 
Suhaimi usually went out with friends after lunch and got back before dinner time. At around 5 pm of that day, the sound of repeated gunfire was heard across the village. No one in the family thought much about it. Not long after, villagers who have access to the internet shared names and photos of the victims on the Line chat application, but most of the names later turned out to be false. The family did not care much about the incident, but were merely curious about why Suhaimi had not yet come home and why he did not return their calls. 
 
Around midnight, the assistant village headman came to the house to convey the bad news. 
 
"Suhaimi …, Suhaimi …" the assistant village headman said to Suhaimi’s mother. 
 
The assistant village headman never finished the sentence, but Suhaimi's mother knew that the nightmare had come. She ran upstairs to cry, while their father went to the hospital to receive the body of Suhaimi. 
 
Lina and Mona said their mother did not eat much after the death of her beloved son. When she saw a shirt of Suhaimi’s, she would also cry. The 84-year-old grandma however was not that sad because she believed that God had designated the day of his death.  
 
Their father, meanwhile, tried his best to lead the family in the difficult time. He welcomed everyone who visited the family, whether they were neighbours, civil society workers or soldiers. "He said whoever came, we have to welcome them," said Lina. "However, when dad is alone, he is sad.”
 
The sisters said Suhaimi planned to get married to a woman working in Yala Hospital this year. The reason he wanted to work in Yala was also to be close to his girlfriend. Before he was killed, he was building an extension to the home where grandma is currently living as a home for the newlyweds. 
 
"He told us that if he got a job in Yala, we'd get to go to college. Nowadays, we have to take turns going to school since our parents cannot take us all to school on the same day."
 
No one from the military has ever come to search the house, before or after the incident. The soldiers only came to say it was not their responsibility. The sisters insist Suhaimi was never involved with insurgent groups nor wanted on any warrant.  
 
"Military fights bandits” is the news headline which angers them. "They wrote that our brother was an RKK member and that he was armed and had a grenade in his hand. Later the news changed to the authorities killing civilians." 
 
‘Bandit’ is a term that Thai newspapers commonly use to label suspected insurgents 
 
"I want this to be corrected. The truth is my brother was not RKK. He was shot dead. He was unarmed. Yes he was addicted to krathom, but he was not a bandit as the reporters wrote. Mom couldn't take it. She was very sad."  
 
An officer assigned to investigate the incident came to talk with the family. The father has filed a complaint at the Damrongtham Centre. The family will do its best to pursue justice for Suhaimi, Lina said.  
 
"Suhaimi wanted everyone to study at a high level. But now he's gone. I will have to carry on his dream and responsibility from now on," Lina said with saddened eyes. 
 
This article was translated and modified from the article first published on the Deep South Watch