Thai security adviser wants peace team to negotiate with influential BRN representatives

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Mariyam Ahmad
Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand
Thai security adviser wants peace team to negotiate with influential BRN representatives Gen. Wanlop Rugsanaoh (left), the government’s chief negotiator for the peace process in Thailand’s Deep South, speaks with Malaysian facilitator Zulkifli Zainal Abidin at the Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel, Feb. 3, 2023.
Courtesy Thai Secretariat for Peace Dialogue

Thailand wants to make sure it is negotiating with the right people in the Deep South peace process – specifically, those who have influence over combatants – the government’s chief security adviser told BenarNews just before the new Malaysian facilitator visited Bangkok.

Thai government negotiators on Friday welcomed Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, a former head of Malaysia’s armed forces who Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim appointed last month to replace Abdul Rahim Noor as the broker for the peace talks.

“In regard to the new facilitator’s visit, I personally wish he would push for more involvement from people who we really want to talk to,” security adviser Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

“[W]e expect someone who has clout, not former members or insurgents,” he said while declining to name people he would want to join the talks.

Panitan said Malaysia’s new prime minister could also inject energy into the peace process, a sentiment echoed by analysts.

Since early 2020, Malaysia has facilitated direct talks between Thai negotiators and a panel representing Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the largest and most powerful of armed insurgent groups in Thailand’s mainly Malay Muslim southern border region.

But some observers have cast doubt on whether Anas Abdulrahman, the chief negotiator for the BRN, has the backing of the group’s military wing, which has sway over fighters in the field.

Anwar is to visit Thailand later this year and Panitan expects that discussions could focus on security along the border between the two countries, including cases where insurgents hold dual citizenship.

“This would intercept fugitives from Malaysia who cross to Thailand and vice versa. This prevents ill-wishing people from crossing into Thailand to cause trouble,” Panitan said in an interview with BenarNews on Wednesday.

He said Anwar had been involved in common border security management and joint patrol issues before he became prime minister in November.

“I believe Anwar has an intention to undertake the matter to make it his legacy,” Panitan said.

“Anwar possesses ‘new dynamics’ that we want in regard to handling the Deep South. He is connected with civil society, local politics as well as Thailand’s key figures including Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan,” Panitan said.

“I think his visit will likely benefit the peace talk process.”

Mohd. Mizan Mohammad Aslam of the National Defense University of Malaysia told BenarNews recently that he thought Anwar could play a prominent role in the peace process.

“He is one of the very respected figures in Thailand. I know during his tenure as deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim helped a lot of Muslims, especially madrassas in southern Thailand. So with that, I believe he can play a significant role,” Mohd. Mizan said in December.  

Facilitator visit

On Friday in Bangkok, Gen. Wanlop Rugsanaoh, who leads the Thai government’s team of negotiators, introduced Zulkifli to civilians, police and military members of his team.

Friday’s discussions dealt with working together to move the peace talks forward, said a source close to the talks.

“The matter of Joint Comprehensive Plan toward Peace (JCPP), or a comprehensive framework of discussions was raised,” the source, who was not authorized to speak to reporters, told BenarNews.

A spokesperson from the Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur announced that the next official round of talks would be held in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 21 and 22.

The JCPP is expected to be discussed in an effort to reduce violence while consulting the public and finding political solutions for the region.

Zulkifli is expected to visit provinces in the Deep South to meet with locals, including religious leaders, to better understand the region, according to a statement from the embassy.

Neither Anas, the chief negotiator for the BRN, nor other members of his panel immediately commented on the meetings in Bangkok on Friday. Zulkifli has already met with leaders of BRN, Anas confirmed in late January.

The Deep South encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala provinces and four districts of Songkhla province. Since the insurgency reignited in January 2004, more than 7,344 people have been killed and 13,641 others injured in violence in the mainly Muslim Malay border region, according to Deep South Watch, a local think-tank.

In the most recent attack on Thursday evening, suspected insurgents threw two pipe bombs and fired dozens of rounds at a military base in Batu village, Narathiwat province, according to the police and CCTV footage. No one was injured.

Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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