Top Government Negotiator in Thailand’s Southern Peace Talks Sacked

Pimuk Rakkanam and Nani Yusof
Bangkok and Washington
160420-TH-nakrob-620.jpg Then Maj. Gen. (now Lt. Gen.) Nakrob Boonbuathong speaks to a reporter at army headquarters in Bangkok, June 26, 2015.
Pimuk Rakkanam/BenarNews

Lt. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong, who chaired a Thai government panel working to restart peace talks with insurgent groups in the country’s Deep South, has been removed from that duty, he told BenarNews on Wednesday.

“I’ve been verbally informed that I’ve been removed from the post,” Nakrob said, adding that he did not know what his next assignment would be.

Someone else from the government team, now reduced to eight members, will take over negotiating details of demands and terms between the two sides, Nakrob said.

But an informal meeting between government negotiators and MARA Patani, an umbrella group representing Deep South rebel factions, is still set for next week, both sides said. It would be the first meeting with both sides fully represented since August 2015.

Government participants in the process recently met to prepare for pre talks in late April, Maj. Gen. Shinawatra Mandesh, deputy commander of the 4th Region, which encompasses the Deep South, told BenarNews on Tuesday.

MARA Patani spokesman Abu Hafiz said Wednesday that his side was waiting for the Thai government to fix a date for talks to be held in Kuala Lumpur next week.

Recent violence

MARA has known about Nakrob’s pending removal since last week, Hafiz told BenarNews.

“It won’t have any major impact, as we expect that ToR [terms of reference], that have been already agreed by both technical teams, will be tabled for endorsement by the main dialogue teams” at the late April meeting, Hafiz said.

But he called Nakrob’s exit “a pity … because Nakrob is easy to get along with and understands the procedures of the peace talk process.”

There was no immediate explanation for the removal of Nakrob, a key government actor in peace-making attempts since 2013.

Violence linked to the separatist insurgency in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim far southern provinces of Yala, Patani, Narathiwat and several districts of Songkhla province has claimed more than 6,500 lives since deep-rooted conflict reignited in the region in 2004.

A spate of shootings and bombings that killed at least 30 people in the Deep South in recent weeks had raised questions about whether peace efforts under the current government, which have dragged on for months with little concrete outcome, were still on.

In comments to BenarNews on April 8, Nakrob expressed confidence that the next round of talks was still on.

“The violence has nothing to do with the talks because, even if there are no talks, they perpetuate violence anyway,” Nakrob said.


In public comments around the same time, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said the dialogue panel tended to rush negotiations, and that insurgents were using violence to pressure the government.

"They tried to pressure for a speedier peace process. On several topics, we told them, don't touch on that yet because we haven't yet fully recognized  (MARA Pattani members) ... as real members of the (insurgent) organization," Prayuth told a press conference on April 5.

He criticized the media for its coverage of the attacks, saying, "The more we report, the more they like it.

"Every five days, every 10 days, like mounting pressure on the government to recognize them," Prayuth said, referring to the attacks.

"I am reiterating here that nobody can pressure me. And if they pressure me, I will use legal means to take care of the security of the people and bring wrongdoers to justice."

Implications of Nakrob's removal

Nakrob was the only person on the negotiating team who had been involved in Deep South peace efforts since they were launched under the previous administration of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2013.

He understands the Malay language used in the Deep South and had been the negotiator most deeply immersed in the technical aspects of the talks.

“Lt. Gen. Nakrob has been secretary of the peace talk panel for a long time and has experience from the beginning since the first panel [in 2013] and the only experienced one the government has. Now he is removed, I think there will be some problems in terms of making talk policy, but we will wait and see,” Srisompob Jitpiromsri, director of Deep South Watch, told BenarNews.

Nasueroh in Pattani, Thailand, contributed to this report


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