Malaysia will host direct peace talks this week between Thailand and southern BRN rebels despite the change of government in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, a state news agency reported Monday, citing a source from the insurgent group.
Abdul Rahim Noor, the facilitator of the Kuala Lumpur-brokered peace process in the Thai Deep South, told BenarNews that he would brief Malaysia’s new prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, within the next two weeks about efforts to end the long-running separatist insurgency.
Abdul Rahim will facilitate a second round of direct talks between delegations representing the Thai government and BRN on Wednesday, March 4, a source with Barisan Revolusi Nasional (the National Revolutionary Front, or BRN), told Bernama, the Malaysian state-run news outlet.
“Now, everyone is in Kuala Lumpur and is preparing for negotiations this time around,” the source said, according to Bernama, which noted that it was understood the meeting would see “both sides proposing long-term recommendations for peace in southern Thailand.”
The two sides held a first meeting in the Malaysian capital in late January. The next day, chief Thai negotiator Gen. Wanlop Rugsanaoh signaled on Jan. 21 that he had opened direct talks with BRN, the largest and most powerful of the rebel groups, whose hardcore military leaders had stayed away from peace talks with Bangkok under way since 2015.
The announcement marked a departure from talks that Thailand had pursued for the previous five years with MARA Patani, an umbrella group representing the various southern rebel factions, but whose BRN panelists were not seen as wielding influence over combatants in the field, according to analysts.
More than 7,000 people have been killed across Thailand’s mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region, which is next-door to Malaysia, since the insurgency reignited in 2004.
In Kuala Lumpur, Abdul Rahim sidestepped the question when BenarNews asked him whether the talks were to resume on Monday, as a source in MARA Patani had specified earlier.
“This is actually the decision we have made that we will not reveal the development or progress of the peace talks. When we reach a mutual understanding, find ways to solve [the conflict], then we will make a statement,” he told BenarNews on Monday.
He said the warring sides “did not wish to publicize” the talks in order to avoid raising expectations among the public about the new phase of the peace process.
When asked about when he could issue any statement about the talks, he replied “when we reach basic peace.”
“That was their desire. It depends on how fast and how soon they make peace with each other. The faster the better,” the facilitator told BenarNews.
In August 2018, then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appointed Abdul Rahim, a former national police chief, as the new facilitator of the southern Thai peace talks.
Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) government collapsed last week when he resigned from office on Feb. 24. Muyhyiddin, the former home minister in Mahathir’s government, defected to the opposition to form a new government. Over the weekend, Malaysia’s king announced that Muhyiddin was his choice for the country’s top political leadership role.
“For Malaysia, we hope that the feud [in the Deep South] ended when Tun M [Mahathir] was the prime minister. Now he has resigned. Now we have a new prime minister … I will see him in the next week or two to brief him,” Abdul Rahim said.
In Bangkok, an aide to Wanlop, the chief Thai negotiator, told BenarNews that the general did not go to Kuala Lumpur on Monday but was traveling upcountry during the day.
On Jan. 31, Wanlop announced that he anticipated that his delegation would hold a second meeting with BRN delegates in Kuala Lumpur in “early March.”
On Monday, BenarNews also spoke to a member of the MARA Patani panel who leads the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), one of the separatist groups in the Deep South.
“Initially, I don’t know whether there are talks today. But I affirm that I fully support the talks, I support every negotiation. This time around, I stress the importance of inclusivity, making it a top priority from the beginning,” Kasturi Mahkota said.
“To avoid failure like in the past, I’m not going to talk too much on it because the process has just begun,” he told BenarNews.