Malaysia Hopes to Broker Revival of Southern Thailand Peace Talks

By Hata Wahari

2015-08-24
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150824-MY-zamsamin-620 Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim, the Malaysian facilitator of peace talks between Thailand and southern Thai rebel groups, addresses reporters in Kuala Lumpur, July 12, 2013.
AFP

Malaysia, as broker of potential new peace negotiations between Thailand and various southern Thai rebel groups, is looking to Tuesday’s scheduled pre-talks meeting in Kuala Lumpur as another opportunity for both sides to break the ice, the Malaysian facilitator told BenarNews.

"There is no specific agenda for the meeting, as for a start we need to build the relationship among the parties concerned since most of them are new members of the delegations,” Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim said in a phone interview Monday.

"We hope that this meeting will pave the way for both sides to have mutual understanding on matters that would lead towards taking the negotiations to the next level.”

Tuesday’s meeting is going ahead despite more insurgency-related bloodletting reported in recent days and weeks in Thailand’s Deep South region.

On Monday, suspected insurgents shot dead a fruit vendor in Yala province and left his body by the roadside, police said.

The killing followed a Saturday night shooting elsewhere in the province that left three men injured. On Sunday, a village chief and a security official were shot and injured in neighboring Pattani province.

Yala and Pattani are part of Thailand’s predominantly Muslim southern border region, which has been in the throes of a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 6,000 lives and injured 10,000 since 2004.

Many rebel leaders and sympathizers of their cause are known to live across the border in Malaysia.

Peace broker cautiously upbeat

Zamzamin is to mediate a meeting between a Thai delegation headed by Gen. Aksara Kerdpol and MARA Patani, an umbrella group that collectively represents at least four Muslim rebel groups from the Deep South.

The meeting will be the third closed-door meeting since June aimed at reviving formal peace talks between the Thai government and southern rebels.

"This meeting is an effort to get all the parties involved to move forward, as we are at the early state of the negotiations,” Zamzamin told BenarNews.

"However, Malaysia is confident that the dialogue will be fruitful, given the fact that all quarters are willing to resume the peace talks amidst incidents that are still taking place in southern Thailand," he said.

Zamzamin also served as the Malaysian government’s facilitator for the last round of peace talks, which stalled in December 2013, when a civilian-led government represented Thailand at the negotiation table. Should he succeed in helping persuade the two sides to return to the table, the new peace talks would be the first under Thailand’s military-controlled government, which seized power in May 2014.

Last year, the Thai junta expressed a willingness to explore the prospect of fresh peace talks. During a visit to Putrajaya in December 2014, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha personally conveyed such a message to his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, according to news reports.

After the two leaders met, Najib was quoted as saying that Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok had agreed to start efforts aimed at reviving the stalled talks, and these would rest on three basic principles: a period free of violence in the Deep South; that all Thai rebel groups would be represented at new talks; and that all of the insurgents’ various demands would be united through a single front at the table, past reports said.

"Based on the third principle, all the [separatist] demands shall be merged and streamlined under one common demand. This will be used as the foundation to begin the talks with the Thai government,” Najib said.

All need to be involved: Ex-PULO leader

MARA Patani, which was formed this past May will, in theory, function as a united front in any talks with the Thai government. The umbrella group consists of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), Gerakan Mujahideen Islami Patani (GMIP), Barisan Islam Perberbasan Patani (BIPP), and three factions of the Patani Liberation Organization (PULO).

But a former senior PULO leader, Haji Ismail Ternang, opined that one of the main reasons for the failure of the peace process in the past was the lack of commitment to ending the conflict in the Deep South.

"The peace process needs to involve all parties, no matter small or big groups and they must sit at the discussion table," Ismail, who was released from a prison in Yala on July 17 after a royal pardon, told Bernama, Malaysia’s state-run news agency.

Nasueroh and Rapee Mama contributed to this report.

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