This paper compares the ethnic (indigenous) movements in northern Thailand with the violent conflict in the southernmost provinces of the country, and considers how these movements relate to both the state and the local population. The construction of the nation as an 'imagined community' is a project of the national political elites. Similarly, the construction of an ethnic identity emerges from the local elites. This implies that national integration and minority formation are simultaneous processes, in which national elites enforcing a national identity confront local elites constructing minority identities. The potential conflict is reduced through co-opting the local elites into the ruling system. This has not been the case for the ethnic minorities of the north. There they either define themselves as representatives of the minorities, or monopolise administrative positions established through decentralisation policies. In the south the conflict in which the local elites lost their power positions dates back decades, if not centuries. There too co-optation did not take place until the 1980s. Then a relative pacification set in, when possibilities for political participation for these elites improved. The conflict escalated again when these possibilities were reduced after the election in 2001 with a new government policy.