A future ceasefire in southern Thailand could be annulled if more than three violent incidents occur in a district selected for the experimental truce, according to a Thai negotiator, but a rebel spokesman said insurgents had not approved this condition.
After exploratory peace talks in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 28, negotiators from the Thai side and a panel representing Deep South rebel groups announced a framework for a so-called safety zone, or limited ceasefire, which would take hold in a one of the districts of Thailand’s war-stricken southern border region.
The safety zone will take at least three months to set up and implement, and will serve as a test to see if the concept can work there and in other areas of the Deep South, officials from both sides have said. Neither side has named any of the five districts in three provinces from which one district will be picked for a ceasefire.
Yet during a press briefing in Bangkok on Thursday, a military officer who serves as secretary of the Thai negotiation team claimed both sides had agreed to placing a condition on the truce related to violence in the Deep South.
“The delineation of a safety zone is one measure of testing mutual trust between the government and the dissidents, which, at present, is not quite there yet,” Maj. Gen. Sitthi Trakulwong told reporters at the Bangkok headquarters of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, referring to separatist insurgents in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South.
“However, it is understood that there are other factors to the violence other than the insurgent groups –namely, opportunistic threats such as drugs, oil-smuggling and local politicians. Therefore there is an initial agreement that, in a safety zone, there can be no more than three violent incidents taking place,” he said.
Should acts of violence interrupt the ceasefire in the chosen district, both the Thai and rebels side would need to conduct joint investigations, he said.
“But if we cannot identify the culprits, the safety zone is cancelled,” Sitthi warned.
The rebel view
Abu Hafiz Al-Hakim, a spokesman for the MARA Patani panel that represents southern rebels in the peace efforts, was asked Friday whether they had agreed to the condition to do with violence as spelled out a day earlier by the secretary of the Thai negotiating team.
“That is the view of the Thai side. We so far only agreed on the General Framework for SZ [Safety Zones]. There has been no detailed discussion or consensus on the rules or SOP [Standard Operating Procedures]; all these will be refined later,” Abu Hafiz told BenarNews.
He and Sitthi indicated that the two sides would work together over three months to select one of five districts where the truce would take effect and make preparations for a ceasefire. Once they agreed to this, the chosen district would serve for another three months as a test site for the concept of safety zones, they said.
However, the prospect of a limited ceasefire being implemented and holding has been shaken lately by violence in the region, which some have blamed on hardcore armed separatists who refuse to negotiate with Thailand’s military government and are not on board with MARA Patani.
Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence associated with the insurgency since 2004. Since Feb. 28, when the two sides agreed to a framework for a limited ceasefire, 12 people have been killed and 10 injured in suspected rebel attacks in the Deep South. The dead included an 8-year-old boy, his parents and aunt, as well as other civilians.
Meanwhile, as the Thai military was briefing reporters about its plan to pursue a limited ceasefire, its regional command in the Deep South announced that it was extending an emergency-powers decree for another three months in certain parts of the region because of the cycle of violence.
Such powers allow security forces in the region to arrest suspects without a warrant and to hold suspects in isolation indefinitely, according to the Bangkok Post.
The extension of emergency powers will begin on March 20, Col. Yuthanam Petchmuang, deputy spokesman for the regional office of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), told reporters Thursday.
“[T]here have still been ongoing serious incidents. It is therefore expedient to extend the emergency decree for serious situations,” he said.
BenarNews staff in Pattani, Thailand, contributed to this report