Thai Negotiator Defends Peace Talks with Southern Rebels

Mariyam Ahmad
Pattani, Thailand
180315-TH-violence-620.jpg Military officials investigate the site of a roadside bombing in Ja nae, a district of southern Thailand’s Narathiwat province, Feb. 18, 2018.
Matahari Ismail/BenarNews

Thai officials have been in contact with armed separatists in Thailand’s Deep South in the past, but this approach only leads to more violence, the junta’s chief peace negotiator said Thursday, in a rare defense of the much-criticized peace process.

In a long statement, Gen. Aksara Kerdpol appeared to hit back at those calling for engagement with fighters on the ground rather than its current negotiating partners, as well as skeptics of the peace process generally.

“In the past, some dissidents who ‘want to talk’ used violent attacks as a bargaining chip to pressure the government to support their terms and conditions, with the support of certain officials who secretly contacted the dissident sources,” he said, using the Thai government’s term for Muslim Malay insurgents in Thailand’s southern border region.

He did not specify when such contact took place in the past.

“And the dissidents were supported by militants on the ground by instigating violence across Deep South provinces. If we talk to them, it means, in return, we support violence,” he added.

Critics of the slow-moving peace process – which has identified a single district for a future ceasefire, after three years of talks – often point out that the most deadly insurgent group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), is not on board.

For its part, BRN representatives have announced their desire to talk directly with the government if the talks are conducted with international mediation, among other conditions.

But the government “does not give legitimacy to the extremists” and has embraced a non-violent approach, Aksara said Thursday.

“[T]he government has forced the dissidents to follow only one channel for them to achieve the goal,” he said, an apparent reference to the MARA Patani panel representing Deep South rebel groups in the current Malaysia-brokered talks.

Government officials, academics, members of the media and citizens not trusting the peace process are part of the problem and ultimately support ongoing violence, Aksara claimed.

He singled out “columnists” who, he said, had been telling the public that Deep South Muslims “could accept losses – deaths and injuries – to pursue ideology and achieve the goal of the BRN.”

“[H]ave you asked those people if they agree with you?” he asked, saying that such writers “inadvertently become supporters of the bandits.”

Talks alone cannot achieve peace; only people who embrace non violence and dialogue can do so, Aksara said. He urged "civilian brothers in the area and academics" to join in setting up a so-called safety zone, or ceasefire zone limited to a geographic area in the Deep South.

Last month, in another statement, Aksara announced that Thai and MARA Patani negotiators had agreed in selecting one district where the ceasefire would be implemented. He did not reveal its name but said at the time that the ceasefire could take hold in another six months.

Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence in the predominantly Muslim Deep South since the decades-old insurgency re-ignited in 2004.

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