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The Treaty - Britain's role in covering up Thailand's southern occupation

While today marks a historically important event for many politically and socially active groups in Patani, the day will pass by unnoticed in Thailand and the rest of the world for that matter. However, the event is of international importance. It will be remembered by those aware of the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 as the day Thailand colonized Patani. This isn't exactly true. Thailand or the Siamese Kingdom as it was at that time had already forcibly moved in to occupy the most northerly Malay State on the eastern coast of the Malay Peninsula much earlier.

The 10th March 1909 has much more importance in an international context. It is the day when the world's global superpower of the time – Great Britain – legitimized Thailand's occupation of Patani. Interestingly, Patani is the only northern Malay state not mentioned in the Treaty itself. On this date, Patani literally disappeared off the face of the map and its people became the forgotten Malays. However, events which took place in Patani in the early 20th century are arguably the reason why the British were eager to get Siam to agree to ratifying the 1909 Treaty and the cause of how the border between modern day Thailand and Malaysia was drawn.

Thanks to confidential British governmental documents dating back to the early 20th century, which are now publicly available and held at the National Archives in London, we know that not only was the British government aware of the occupation in Patani and mistreatment of Patani Malays by Siam but also that the British authorities dismissed the ill treatment of the Malays and without consultation of the Patani population or its leaders accepted Siam's occupation of Patani in return for strengthening Anglo-Siamese relations in order to secure its own economic interests in the Malay Peninsula.

Secret internal correspondence within the British Empire at the turn of the 20th century show how dangerous Sir Frank Swettenham, the governor of Britain's own Malay colonies, saw the “trouble and misgovernment in the Siamese Malay States[1]”.

The governor was in a good position to sense the anxiety amongst the Malay states. He had received a plea for help from the Raja of Patani in 1898 and again in 1901 before the Raja was finally removed and imprisoned by Siam. The governor's advice to the Raja at the time was to be patient and avoid violence[2].

Britain was indeed deeply concerned about Siam's presence in the northern Malay states but only because it was concerned of “the danger of discontented Malay rulers turning for protection to some other great power[3]”. This was the motivation of forming the Anglo-Siamese Treaty in 1909. Just so there were no misunderstandings between Britain and Siam, Ralph Paget, the British legation at Bangkok sent a letter immediately after the ratification of the Treaty to Siam's Minister for foreign affairs, Prince Devawonse Varoprakar with the following extract

His majesty's government would therefore request that the Siamese government shall not code or lease, directly or indirectly, to any foreign government any territory situated in the Malay peninsula south of the southern boundary of Monthon Rajaburi, or in any of the islands adjacent to the said territory; also that within the limits above mentioned a right to establish or lease any coaling station, to build or own any construction or repairing docks, or to occupy exclusively any harbours the occupation of which would be likely to be prejudicial to British interests from a strategic point of view, shall not be granted to any foreign Government or Company[4].

Perhaps the most revealing statement in Swettenham's 1901 secret dispatch which shows Britain's complete disregard for legality and the rights of the Patani Malays is when he highlights that “Siam has no written Treaty agreements with Trengganu, Kelantan or Patani[5]”. He goes on to say that “we must decide whether to protect our own interests by direct Treaties with these East Coast States or by bolstering up Siamese influence therein[6]”. Swettenham goes on to advise that Kelantan and Trengganu come under British Protection. Patani is disregarded. This is despite the fact that Swettenham admits that Siam has no stronger legal basis for controlling Patani than it has for controlling Kelantan and Trengganu[7].

By 1908, Patani's fate was decided. Britain's Foreign Office was not in the mood of entertaining any suggestions that Siam's occupation of Patani ends. When Sir John Anderson, the British governor who replaced Swettenham, mentions that he would like to see Patani become a British Malay colony, the Foreign Office showed their disapproval[8].

But all this is simply history and long forgotten. For the separatists and many politically and socially active Patani Malay groups, at least, the Treaty is a stark reminder of the injustice they continue to feel.

“The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 was history. However, its effects perpetuates and remains to this day. Both British Malaya and Siam made decisions disregarding the Malay rulers and people on both sides of the borders. It was being imposed by persuasion, intimidation and the use of force. The fact that the Malays in the Deep South are still fighting for their rights, justice and freedom to this day only confirms that the 1909 Treaty was indeed a "tragedy" and a continuous nightmare for them," Abu Hafez Al-Hakim, A senior member of BIPP (Islamic Liberation Front of Patani) and Dialogue team member in MARA Patani.

“History is a key for resolving a conflict so with the Anglo-Siam Treaty in 1909 it is highly relevant with regard to the peace process in the Patani conflict," Kasturi Mahkota, President of PULO Five Star (Patani United Liberation Organization) Four Star and member of MARA Patani

“The Anglo-Siamese Treaty is evidence that Patani was colonized. The peace process will not be effective because Patani has been occupied by the Thai and it will not recognize that," Tuan Danial, Director of LEMPAR (Academy of Patani Raya for Peace and Development)

“We agree with the peace process to solve the root problem because the Anglo-Siamese Treaty drew the borders without it being agreed by the Malay society. That is why the fighting continues until today," Arifin Soh, President of PerMAS (Federation of the Patani Students and Youth)

However, Britain's role of nullifying the existence of Patani should also not be forgotten either. It's actions of recognizing Siam's occupation under the Treaty is arguably the most important reason why Thailand has been able to successfully convince the world that the century old conflict in Patani is a domestic issue. History validates that this is pure fiction.


[1] National Archives, London. Document FCO 141 16286.

[2] National Archives, London. Document CO 537 4744.

[3] National Archives, London. Document FCO 141 16286.

[4] National Archives, London. Document FO 821 58. 

[5] National Archives, London. Document FCO 141 16286

[6] National Archives, London. Document FCO 141 16286.

[7] National Archives, London. Document FCO 141 16286.

[8] National Archives, London. Document FCO 141 16286.



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