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Thailand Wants All of BRN Rebel Group to Join Southern Peace Talks

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2018-11-21
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Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan (left) reviews an honor guard with Malaysian Defense Minister Haji Mohamad bin Sabu in Bangkok, Nov. 21, 2018.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan (left) reviews an honor guard with Malaysian Defense Minister Haji Mohamad bin Sabu in Bangkok, Nov. 21, 2018.
Courtesy of the Thai Defense Ministry

Thailand’s military government on Wednesday urged all elements of the most powerful separatist group in the nation’s Deep South to join Malaysia-brokered peace talks.

Prawit Wongsuwan, the Thai deputy prime minister and defense chief, said all parties within the National Revolutionary Front rebel group, or BRN, should participate in negotiations to resolve an insurgency that has killed nearly 7,000 people during the past 14 years.

“Most of insurgent movements have joined the talks but the BRN is the only one who hasn’t joined,” Prawit told reporters.

Prawit was apparently referring to the BRN’s military wing.

“The political wing has joined,” he said. “We want all the movements to come out so that we can talk.”

It is highly unusual for a top Thai government official to mention the BRN by name, analysts said. Thai officials usually refer to southern rebels as “dissidents.”

Last month, Udomchai Thammasarorat, Thailand’s new chief negotiator in the peace process, said the Buddhist-majority nation was open to hold talks with “all dissident groups.”

Prawit made the statement after meeting with Malaysian Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu, who was wrapping up his two-day visit to Bangkok on Wednesday.

The Deep South encompasses the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla province and lies along peninsular Malaysia’s northern border.

Prawit made the statement after meeting with Malaysian Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu, who was wrapping up his two-day visit to Bangkok on Wednesday.

Malaysia is facilitating the peace talks between the Thai government and MARA Patani – an umbrella group that claims to negotiate on behalf of all the southern rebel groups and includes BRN representatives on its panel.

Earlier, Mohamad Sabu told reporters that his first official visit to Thailand would focus on resolving the Deep South conflict. Many residents in the Deep South provinces have family ties with Malaysians, especially those living in the border states of Perlis, Kelantan and Kedah.

“What happens in southern Thailand affects both countries, that is why we must find the best resolution, through negotiations, defense diplomacy and various other means,” Mohamad Sabu told the Malaysian news service Bernama on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mohamad Sabu spent about 45 minutes discussing bilateral security concerns with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha at Government House in Bangkok, Lt. Gen. Werachon Sukhondhapatipak, deputy government spokesman, told reporters.

Last month, the Bangkok daily The Nation quoted unidentified BRN members as saying that their leaders were not interested in joining MARA Patani at the negotiating table and warning that Malaysia could risk compromising its role in the talks.

“These so-called peace practitioners, domestic and foreign, could be going along with this shrewd strategy of Thailand without realizing that they are being played,” one BRN operative said, according to newspaper.

BRN members also expressed concern that pressure from Malaysia to get them to the table could undermine peace efforts in the long run, the report said.

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