Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the largest of the armed separatist groups in Thailand’s Deep South, appointed a new leader to replace Sapae-ing Baso who died two months ago, Thai security sources said Monday.
At a meeting in Kelantan, Malaysia, the BRN’s governing council (DPP) named Doonloh Wae-mano (alias Abdullah Wan Mat Noor), a former principal of a school in the Deep South who is wanted in Thailand on insurgency-related charges, as its new chairman.
He takes over from Sapae-ing, the chairman of the council and “spiritual leader” of the rebel group who died at age 86 of complications from diabetes on Jan. 10, sources told BenarNews.
Doonloh was promoted a week after Sapae-ing’s death to the chairmanship from the rank of secretary on the six-member council of the highly secretive BRN, which was established in 1960 and whose number of fighters stands today around 6,000, according to Thai military officials.
The governing council, also known as the Al Shura, appointed Doonloh during a meeting at the Al Dawah Islamiyah Madrassa in Kelantan on Jan. 17, a Thai security official told Benar on condition of anonymity. The information could not be immediately confirmed on the rebel side.
“The meeting had a unanimous decision to appoint Doonloh Wae-mano (alias Abdullah Wan Mat Noor), the former secretary, as the new DPP chairman and Uztas Abdul Munir, the current leader of BRN’s political wing, to be secretary as well,” the official said.
A spokesman for the military’s regional command in the Deep South, however, said he could not independently confirm the report.
“I heard about the possible appointment of Doonloh. It involves the peace talks and we will check it out carefully,” Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for Internal Security Operations 4 (ISOC 4), told BenarNews by phone.
Thailand’s military government is trying to open formal peace talks with MARA Patani, a panel representing southern rebel groups and factions, including the BRN, but none of the people who sit on the BRN’s governing council are represented on the panel, according to a list of BRN council members obtained by BenarNews.
Late last month, Thai and MARA Patani negotiators agreed in Kuala Lumpur to a framework for a limited ceasefire in one of the districts in the Deep South. But since the two sides achieved the breakthrough on Feb. 28, at least 12 people have been killed in attacks by suspected insurgents in provinces across the region.
Nearly 7,000 people have died since 2004 in violence associated with the separatist conflict in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region.
‘Of the same generation’
Doonloh, the new chairman of BRN, is a former headmaster of the Jihad Witaya School in Pattani – one of the provinces in the Deep South – who fled to nearby Malaysia 13 years ago after being charged with rebellion for allegedly training insurgents on his school’s grounds, sources said.
Thai authorities accuse Doonloh of training separatists who took part in looting more than 400 assault rifles from a military camp in Cho-Irong district, Narathiwat province, in 2004.
“Abdullah Wan Mat Noor [Doonloh] was appointed the DPP’s Secretary in 2016, so he is as known a quantity as a shadowy insurgency that delights in the secrecy its inner workings can have. Since September 2016, he has been the BRN’s number two, so it seems normal that he would be appointed chairman,” Zachary Abuza, an expert on the Thai Deep South and professor at the National War College in Washington, told BenarNews.
The BRN has lost two of its most prominent leaders in the past two years – Jekumar Kuteh and Sapae-ing Baso – who were headmasters at two of the most prominent Shaafi Islamic boarding schools (madrassas) in the Deep South and whose “influence over students and teachers was very deep,” according to Abuza.
Of Doonloh, he observed, “we don’t know how broad based his support is,” but Doonloh “is of the same generation.”
“I am still concerned about a generational change within the BRN that brings a more hardline leadership to the fore,” Abuza added.
Doonloh is a BRN hardliner whose ascension to the organization’s top spot could threaten peace efforts between Thailand and MARA Patani, according to a source in Thai military intelligence.
“MARA Patani does not seem to be able to control militants RKK on the ground. Abdullah Wan Mat Noor is hardcore and he would likely not agree with the peaceful solution,” the intelligence official who also requested anonymity told BenarNews.
RKK is an acronym for a BRN combat unit known as Runda Kumpulan Kecil.