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Action group calls for international help in administering vaccine in the Deep South

Conflict and historical mistrust between the Malay Muslim in Thailand’s southernmost border provinces (Patani) and the Thai State have taken their toll on the government’s effort to carry out Covid-19 vaccinations, said on 4 June by Artef Sohko, President of The Patani, a political action group advocating rights to self-determination for the people living in this conflict-affected region bordering Malaysia.

File photo (Source: ISOC Region 4)

‘Residents in our communities are reluctant to be vaccinated through the various government platforms,” Artef said.

Artef urged the Thai Government to seek outside help from the international community, preferably a humanitarian organization that can administer the vaccination process for the people in this conflict-affected region, Artef said.

“It goes without saying that a high rate of vaccine refusal can compromise herd immunity, which is achieved when a sufficient proportion of the population is immune to the virus,” said Hakim Pongtigor, Chief Delegate of The Patani Delegation.

Artef said the Thai government will have even a tougher time convincing detainees that the vaccine is safe. Nevertheless, the government is morally and legally obligated to apply the same humanitarian principles and public health standards to the thousands of Patani Malay combatants currently locked up in Thai prisons on various national security charges.

Armed conflict between the current generation of Patani Malay rebels and Thai security forces resurfaced in early 2001 but was not officially acknowledged by the Bangkok government until an arms heist in January 2004 at an Army battalion in Narathiwat Province that saw combatants making off with about 350 military weapons.

More than 7,000 people, mostly Malay Muslims, have died from this wave of insurgency that has no end in sight in spite of off-and-on peace talks that have yet to move beyond confidence building measures.

In November 2018, Thai public health officials were struggling to contain a measles outbreak in the Patani region after 14 people died and more than 1,500 cases were reported. Officials blame the return of the disease on low vaccination rates caused by misconceptions among the local Muslim population who believed that the gelatin used for making the vaccine derived from pork products used as a stabilising agent.

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