Thailand Expects to Re-Open Southern Peace Talks in May

By BenarNews Staff
2015.04.22
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150422-TH-wongsuwan-620 Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan (right) and Army Chief Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr brief reporters in Bangkok, April 22, 2015.
BenarNews

Updated at 2:51 p.m. ET on 2015-05-17

Malaysia-brokered peace talks between Thailand and insurgents from its Deep South region likely will resume next month for the first time in more than a year, Thai Army Chief Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr said Wednesday.

The Thai military was close to sealing an agreement to open a “dialogue” with southern separatists, he told reporters in Bangkok.

“The new round of dialogue will take place soon, probably in May. Our negotiating teams have been conducting low-profile, pre-arrangements for it,” Udomdej said on the sidelines of a news conference about national security matters alongside Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan.

Later, a senior military official who is close to the negotiations said he was involved in efforts to persuade all five Deep South insurgent groups to participate at the talks in Kuala Lumpur, but these meetings would be behind closed doors.

“The talks with the dissidents will likely happen in May in Malaysia,” Maj. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong, of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), told BenarNews by phone.

However, Nakrob declined to reveal names of people who might represent the insurgents at the talks, saying this information was classified.

Since 2004, more than 6,000 people have been killed in the separatist insurgency in Thailand’s far southern provinces, which are predominantly Muslim and whose population speaks Jawi, a Malay dialect. The Deep South borders Malaysia.

The upcoming talks would also mark the first attempt by Thailand’s military-ruled government, which seized power last May, to seek a negotiated settlement to the southern conflict.

The last round of talks took place under a civilian-led government, with Malaysia acting as a mediator. But they stalled in December 2013.

Hassan Bin Toyib, chief of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) – one of the main rebel groups – headed the insurgency’s four-man delegation to those peace talks.

Mistakes made in Deep South raid: Prawit

During Wednesday’s news conference at the Ministry of Defense, the deputy prime minister and army chief spoke about a raid by government forces in Pattani province on March 25, in which security personnel killed four civilians in the village of Toh Sud.

According to an official probe into the shootings, the raid was based on flawed military intelligence.

The military appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate the incident, after receiving public complaints that the four men were innocent.

The unit that raided the village made a mistake and did not intend to kill innocent people, Prawit told reporters.

“We went there at night time, which we admitted was not right,” Prawit said. “And when we had been in there and with misunderstanding, the personnel involved took responsibility by admitting a tactical error.”

On April 7, when the fact-finding committee publicized its findings on the incident, Gen. Prakarn Cholayuth, chief of ISOC’s regional command in the Deep South, told reporters that the military would use the case to examine whether it needed to improve its intelligence-reporting procedures and rules of engagement.

“I think we have to go back and further review the work of the intelligence. We will work transparently and be straight forward under the law and human rights principles,” he said.

Earlier this week, six of the seven security personnel who were implicated in the killings at Toh Sud presented themselves at a police station in Tung Yang Dang district, but legal proceedings against them have yet to begin.

On Wednesday, Udomdej acknowledged that rules of engagement were breached during the raid on Toh Sud.

“Normally, we would secure the perimeter and have religious leaders witness the scene,” he told reporters, adding that “Now the Muslim leaders, however, understand the situation that some procedures were overstepped due to the hectic atmosphere.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Army Chief Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr disclosed news about peace talks with the southern residents during a press conference. It also erroneously implied that all of the five southern insurgent groups had agreed to take part in the upcoming talks, and it gave the wrong date for when peace talks were last held.

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