The stalled Thai Deep South peace talks apparently will have to go on without one of the chief negotiators who on Friday announced his plan to resign.
Sukree Hari, the chief negotiator for MARA Patani, posted a short letter announcing his plans to step down from negotiations. MARA Patani is an umbrella group that has represented southern separatist rebel groups and factions in Malaysia-brokered talks with Thailand’s military government since 2015.
The full letter, which was posted on the Thai PBS television station and did not state the reason for his resignation, read:
“To Ustaz Awang Jebat, the head of Patani Consultative Council.
“Re: Resignation as the head of delegation of peace dialogue of Patani Consultative Council.
“As mentioned above:
“Since Patani Consultative Council being formed, I, Ustaz Sukree Hari has been given the trust and a mandate as a head of delegation of peace dialogue on behalf of the Patani Consultative Council with the Thai government to find solution to the never-ending conflict in Patani and I believed that I have done well. Alhamdulillah.
“With that said, I am going to resign from the post effective Wednesday.
“Thank you, wassalam.”
The Patani Consultative Council is another name for MARA Patani, and “Patani” is a Malay word that southern Thai separatists use to refer to the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South.
When contacted late Friday to confirm the news, MARA Patani spokesman Abu Hafez Al-Hakim said he had just learned about Sukree’s letter. He said it was not the first time that Sukree, who is believed to be 53, had spoken about leaving the negotiating table.
“He expressed his intention to resign because of health reasons a few months ago,” Abu Hafez told BenarNews.
The spokesman said MARA Patani likely would wait until after the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June to name Sukree’s replacement.
Divisions within MARA
“Two years ago, Ustaz Ahmad Chuwo temporarily replaced him for a few months because of health reasons,” Abu Hafez said.
Sukree’s resignation could have been based on something other than his health, according to assistant professor Srisompob Jitpiromsri, who directs Deep South Watch, a think-tank based in Thailand’s southern border region.
“It could be because of MARA’s internal rift. MARA and the Thai peace talk team were at odds, so that could be the reason for his resignation,” Srisompob told BenarNews.
Meanwhile, a security source in the Deep South who asked not to be named said internal issues among the MARA Patani team could be to blame.
“We know that MARA members have different thoughts and could not work together,” the source told BenarNews. “Sukree may have had it enough and quit his position.”
Sukree’s letter came as a surprise to Malaysian facilitator Abdul Rahim Noor, who was appointed by Malaysia’s new government in August 2018.
“I’m not aware of his resignation. I was not informed,” Rahim Noor told BenarNews.
Peace talks have been on hold following a failed meeting in February. Rahim Noor’s effort to host an introductory meeting between the two sides in the talks fell apart when the Thai government’s recently named chief negotiator failed to show.
Thai chief negotiator Udomchai Thammasarorat, who was promoted to the post in late 2018, claimed he was never meant to attend the meeting, which he described as technical-level only.
Rahim Noor told BenarNews at the time that Udomchai’s “strange behavior” shocked him, adding that negotiators from both sides had arrived in Kuala Lumpur for the introductory dialogue. Udomchai told Malaysian facilitators that he would meet with Sukree only despite all negotiators being present, and he returned to Thailand the next day.
Shortly afterward, Sukree issued a video statement announcing that peace talks would be delayed until after the Thai elections in late March were finished and the new government was in place.
Earlier this month, the Election Commission announced final poll results for the lower house of parliament and the government announced the names of 250 senators who are expected to select the new prime minister on May 27. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who took over in 2014 after leading a military coup, is the leading candidate for the top post.
MARA Patani includes representatives from the National Revolutionary Front (BRN), the largest and most powerful of southern insurgent groups, but its hardcore leaders have stayed away from the peace talks.
The Deep South borders Malaysia and encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces as well as four districts in Songkhla province. Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence in the region since the insurgency flared up again in early 2004 after a dormant period.
Mariyam Ahmad in Pattani, Thailand, and Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.