Thailand Ready for Peace Talks: Security Official



2015-03-05
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TH-toyib-620-March2015 Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) chief Hassan Bin Toyib addresses reporters in Kuala Lumpur, June 14, 2013.
AFP

Bangkok is close to opening a new round of Malaysia-mediated talks aimed at solving the separatist conflict in Thailand’s Deep South region, according to a security official who works on the issue.  

“The Thai authorities are ready for a talk with the ‘dissidents’ but have yet to set a date pending preliminary, low-profile, communications with all parties involved, paving a way to the meetings,” Maj. Gen. Nakrob Boonthong of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) told BenarNews.

“The entire process of talks consists of three steps: government-to-government level, leadership level and operative level. We need to deal with them from top to bottom, otherwise the operatives will not dare come out, as they fear arrest if the top levels don’t agree to allow it in the first place,” Nakrob said.

“The talks will be held in Malaysia like the last two times, facilitated by Malaysia.”

According to Nakrob – and in contrast to other reports – the southern resistance movements operate under the same umbrella and are well connected.

In late February, Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for ISOC Region 4, Forward, told BenarNews that a Feb. 20 car-bomb attack in Narathiwat had “shattered” the trust needed to restart peace talks.

“We try to build trust but sometimes it is like we are building a sand castle. We shape it up but when they use violent means such as a bomb, mutual trust is definitely shattered,” he said.

The bombing outside a karaoke bar in Narathiwat town injured 17 people and damaged surrounding buildings.

Ideological figurehead

In 2013, the then-civilian-led government negotiators met with leaders of the insurgents in Kuala Lumpur but the talks were widely criticized for “not hitting the nail on the head.”

Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) chief Hassan Bin Toyib, who led the four-man rebel negotiating team, had an ambiguous place in the insurgency’s hierarchy and was not regarded as one of its key leaders, an expert told BenarNews.

Retired Lt. Gen. Nanthadej Meksawat, former chief of Southern Special Operations, said the next set of negotiations should focus on influential leaders Spa-ing Baso or Masae Useng, and field operatives.

Both Spa-ing Baso and Masae Useng have lived in exile in Malaysia for a long time.

“The key ideological figure is Spa-ing Baso. Despite his age, his ideology has strong influence on his disciples who are active in the south,” Lt. Gen. Nanthadej said.

“For the second type of operatives – the mercenary type of terrorists working for money – government field officials normally know who they are, and they should be ready for talks as well. But many of them have been charged with criminal offenses, which may hinder peace attempts,” he added.

Broadening the talks

Angkhana Neelapaijit, whose lawyer husband disappeared 11 years ago, said negotiations should involve all parties including local operatives, civil society and women. But, in the past, only senior officials were brought to the table.

“It was worrying to have only leaders at the table because we don’t know if they are able to control the mechanism of the movements,” Angkhana argued.

“The government should involve local operatives. The government has quite a lot of information about them, but needs to be careful to respect human rights, to lawfully enforce laws and to improve the quality of life of those who are at risk of taking sides with the extremists,” Angkhana added.

Her husband, Somchai Neelapaijit, was pulled from his car by police officers in Bangkok in March 2004 and never seen again. At the time, he was heading a high-profile lawsuit alleging torture of Muslim suspects in the Deep South at the hands of police, according to Human Rights Watch.

The March 2 release of a Facebook video, in which a masked speaker threatened to expel non-Muslims from the Deep South, had only added confusion to a volatile situation. The Facebook page has since been taken down, Angkhana said.

“It is confusing seeing everyone claiming legitimacy and leadership” of the insurgent movement she said.

“Islam is a religion of peace and can coexist with other religions. But now it is full bigotry, and Islam is interpreted in extremes such as the decapitations carried out by IS [the Islamic State].”  

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