Deep South rebels seek immunity during public consultations in peace process

Muzliza Mustafa and Nisha David
2022.08.03
Kuala Lumpur
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Deep South rebels seek immunity during public consultations in peace process Anas Abdulrahman (center), the head of the panel representing Barisan Revolusi Nasional rebels in peace talks with Thailand, and fellow BRN delegates take part in a post-meetings press conference at a hotel in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 3, 2022
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Negotiators for the main rebel group in Thailand’s Deep South are asking for diplomatic immunity so they can consult the public in the border region about the peace process without being arrested, they told reporters Wednesday.

Barisan Revolusi Nasional chief peace negotiator Anas Abdulrahman said his side made the request to Thailand’s government during two days of meetings with their Thai counterparts in Malaysia this week, and that BRN was considering the main proposal from the other side – a second pause in violence, but one that would last at least three months.

“We discussed about the mechanism … for the public consultations on the ground … that our representatives involved in the peace talks and the public consultations be given diplomatic immunity,” Anas said during a post-meetings press conference at a hotel in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur.

He said the two sides also discussed the Ramadan Peace Initiative, a successful 40-day truce that they had observed in April and May after agreeing to a pause in hostilities following their previous round of in-person talks brokered by Malaysia.

Technical teams from both sides will meet soon to discuss these matters in detail before the next round of official talks – the fourth this year – that will likely take place in October, Anas told BenarNews.

When BenarNews asked him about it on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Thira Daehwa, the secretary for the Thai peace talks panel, said the Thai side was open to discussing the immunity issue more with BRN.

In response to questions about the Thai side’s new proposal for a 108-day truce – which would go from Aug. 15 to Nov. 30 and cover much of the Buddhist Lent – Anas, who is also known as Hipni Mareh, said BRN needed time to consider the matter.

BRN is the largest of armed separatist groups in Thailand’s far south. Many of its leaders, members and officials are believed to be living across the border in neighboring Malaysia, and are the targets of arrest warrants in the heavily militarized Deep South.

Such immunity for wanted BRN members was necessary to let its representatives participate in bilateral monitoring of peace-related measures in the conflict zone and to enable them to consult with communities in the Deep South without fear of being stopped or arrested, a retired former member of Thai delegations in past peace talks with southern rebel groups had explained to BenarNews.

Under past agreements, the government waived all criminal charges against wanted BRN officials to let them take part in consultations with the public, and even allowed them to stay at Thai military premises for the duration, Thai Army Maj. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong had said.

BRN and other separatist groups have been waging a decades-long insurgency against Buddhist-majority Thailand in the Deep South, a predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region that encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala provinces, and four districts of Songkhla province. 

Since the insurgency flared up again in January 2004, more than 7,000 people have been killed and 13,500 others injured in violence across the region, according to Deep South Watch, a local think-tank.

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Mariyam Ahmad contributed to this report from Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand. 

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