The leadership of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the largest and most heavily armed Muslim rebel group in Thailand’s Deep South, has been revamped, according to Thai security sources.
The sources showed BenarNews what is purportedly a leaked official list of the current governing body of the BRN, identifying leaders who are not known to be part of a rebel panel involved in exploratory peace talks with the Thai government.
The seven-member list was based on a Sept. 28 reshuffle of the BRN’s governing council, known in Malay as the Dewan Pimpinan Parti (DPP), a Thai security official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
It identifies Safie Basoe (also known as Sapae-ing Basoh) as the body’s new chairman, and Abdullah Wan Mat Noor (alias Doonloh Wae-mano) as its new secretary. The two were already members of the council but it was unclear who Safie, its former secretary, replaced as chairman, the source said.
The notoriously secretive BRN is the most powerful and oldest active insurgent group in the Deep South, having recently marked its 56th anniversary. It is split into three factions and dominated by one of them, BRN-Coordinate (BRN-C).
All three factions are believed to be represented on MARA Patani, a seven-member panel participating in exploratory talks with the Thai government aimed at resolving a long-running separatist conflict that has killed more than 6,700 people since it reignited 12 years ago.
The list purportedly issued by the BRN does not include names of any BRN figures who are said to serve as representatives of its factions on the MARA Patani negotiating panel. The panel was presented to the public in August 2015 and no updates to its membership have been announced since then.
When contacted about the reported reshuffle of the BRN council on Monday, a senior MARA Patani official not affiliated with that rebel group told BenarNews he was unaware of the changes.
“This is news to me,” he said.
‘It cannot make safety zones’
Since early September, shootings and bombings blamed on insurgents have killed 21 people in the Deep South. The Thai delegation and MARA Patani have discussed so-called “safety zones,” a limited ceasefire seen as a potential milestone in the Malaysia-facilitated peace process, during recent meetings.
According to a regional security expert, the changes in the BRN leadership are a bad sign for the talks.
“MARA Patani does not have an influential member like Abdullah Wan Mat Noor. MARA Patani cannot order the RKK to stop. It cannot make safety zones,” retired Gen. Samrej Srirai, a former deputy commander of the Thai army in the region, told BenarNews.
RKK is an acronym for BRN combat units known as Runda Kumpulan Kecil.
The list (shown below) identifies the five other councilmen as Din Wan Cik, leader of the military wing; Muhd. Arsad Wansor, treasurer; Abdul Munir, leader of BRN’s political wing; Hasan Khatib, head of its international political wing; and Bustaman Salih, an adviser to the DPP.
Safie is the former headmaster of a religious school, the Thammawittaya Foundation School, which is located in the Deep South province of Yala. He is also considered a “spiritual leader” among insurgents in the Thailand’s Muslim dominated and Malay-speaking southern border region, according to retired and acting senior Thai military officials who know the region well.
Abdullah, the new No. 2 man in BRN, is a former headmaster of a school in Pattani – another province in the Deep South – who fled Thailand in 2004 after being charged with rebellion for allegedly training insurgents on his school’s grounds, sources said.
“His promotion is not a surprise,” a member of an RKK unit told BenarNews on Monday, referring to Safie.
“There were changes in the leadership arrangement, but the BRN’s policies remain the same, in which it declared the Deep South a battlefield,” he said.
An arrest warrant is still out for Safie, Col. Songsak Saksakul, the director of the Department of Special Investigation, told BenarNews.
Razlan Rashid in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.