Malaysian Peace Broker: Violence in Thai Deep South Won’t Derail Bangkok-BRN Talks

Mariyam Ahmad and Nisha David
2022.02.03
Pattani, Thailand, and Kuala Lumpur
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Malaysian Peace Broker: Violence in Thai Deep South Won’t Derail Bangkok-BRN Talks Security forces secure the scene of a shootout that left three suspected rebels dead in Koke Ked, a village in Songkhla province, southern Thailand, Feb. 3, 2022.
[Handout from a Thai official]

Ongoing violence in Thailand’s Deep South will not derail newly resumed in-person peace talks between BRN rebels and the Thai government, the Malaysian facilitator of the negotiations and other officials say.

On Thursday morning, according to the Thai military, security forces gunned down three suspected insurgents in a village in Songkhla, one of the provinces in the Muslim-majority southern border region.

It was the third deadly clash since mid-January when delegations representing the government and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the region’s leading separatist insurgency group, met for two days of talks brokered by Malaysia near Kuala Lumpur.

“There is no agreement between the two parties that no violence will happen throughout the period of peace talks,” Abdul Rahim Noor, the Malaysian facilitator, told BenarNews this week.

“Similar incidents will continue to happen until the peace agreement is signed. This is my personal view.”

Such incidents, he said, “will not affect the peace talks.”

Both the Thai government and BRN have “clearly stated that they could not control their people on the ground,” Rahim Noor added.

“I do not know if they meant what they said, but both parties will not take responsibility for any incidents out there.”

Thursday’s clash occurred after authorities said they had received a tip about suspected rebels hiding in an Islamic primary school next to a mosque in Koke Ked, a village in Songkhla’s Chana district.

“Officials attempted to … arrest, but the shootout erupted, resulting in the deaths of the trio,” said a statement by the Forward Office of ISOC-4, the Thai Army’s regional command in the Deep South.

After the peace talks on Jan. 11-12, Anas Abdulrahman, who led the BRN delegation, said there was no ceasefire and “if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves.”

BRN representatives were not immediately available to comment on the latest violence.

Previous incidents

Meanwhile last week, one person was injured when at least 13 small roadside explosions struck the Deep South town of Yala on Jan. 28 and 29, police said. According to the Yala municipal office, bombs were planted in more than 20 locations, while police said they found several unexploded improvised devices constructed from spray cans and metal pipes.

“We can’t officially conclude yet that the BRN was behind such attacks … but we have an initial speculation that the same old groups were behind them – given the types of explosives and the way the bombs were made,” Kiatisak Neewong, the spokesman for ISOC-4, the military’s regional command, told BenarNews.

He also said the bombs “were made to make a loud bang but were not meant to kill.”

A political analyst, meanwhile, said the bombs could have been in retaliation for police killing two suspected insurgents during a raid earlier in the day on Jan 28.

On Jan. 20, two suspected rebels were killed and a Thai soldier was injured in a gunfight after negotiations failed in Sai Buri district, Pattani.

The series of clashes followed the first in-person peace negotiations in nearly two years after they were disrupted by the global outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020. 

“The BRN has previously conducted coordinated attacks for these purposes,” said Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, a Deep South researcher and lecturer at the Prince of Songkla University.

The string of bombs last week could have been a test for new fighters and caused little damage, she said.

“However, the form of revenge attacks was often more destructive or severe and caused more casualties than the recent Yala bombings,” Rungrawee told BenarNews.

“It could be that the BRN wants to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, and so the attacks did not mean to cause casualties. It is more like making a political statement,” she said.

“The BRN might need to show that it still exists and remains militarily capable.”

peace-rally.jpg
Civil defense officers guard Muslim students carrying a banner saying “stop violence” during a rally attended by Muslim and Buddhist residents in Narathiwat province, Thailand, Jan. 22, 2019. [AFP]

Rungrawee added that “one should not expect that there will be no violence while the peace process is ongoing.”

Meanwhile, Kiatisak, the spokesman for ISOC-4, alleged that the “assailants always seek a chance for disruption and conduct it when they can.”

“Nevertheless, the incidents do not jeopardize the atmosphere of the peace talks. [W]e believe the next round of talks will go on,” he told BenarNews. “It’s normal that there are obstacles along the way to goals.”

No date has been set for those talks.

On Thursday, Lt. Gen. Thira Daehwa, the secretary of Thailand’s Peace Dialogue Panel, said the Thai military had reduced the number of checkpoints and deployment of troops even as it maintains efforts to rid the Deep South of militants.

“We already adopted a non-violence method, having their kin help negotiate and encourage them to surrender,” he told BenarNews.

The armed separatist movement against Buddhist-majority Thailand began in the 1960s, primarily demanding independence for the region which is home to predominantly Muslim-Malay people along the Malaysia border. Thailand had annexed it in 1909 as part of a treaty with Britain.

Local think-tank Deep South Watch said more than 7,000 people have been killed and 13,500 others injured in violence across the region since the insurgency reignited in January 2004.

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