Thailand, BRN rebels discuss easing tensions ahead of Ramadan, Songkran

Muzliza Mustafa and Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Kuala Lumpur
Thailand, BRN rebels discuss easing tensions ahead of Ramadan, Songkran Malaysian facilitator Zulkifli Zainal Abidin (center), flanked by chief Thai negotiator Chatchai Bangchuad and Barisan Revolusi Nasional panel chief Anas Abdulrahman, speaks to reporters in Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 7, 2024.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Negotiators for the Thai government and southern insurgents agreed to hold meetings later this month and in March to discuss an “improved” roadmap to peace as well as a Ramadan and Songkran ceasefire, the Malaysian facilitator said Wednesday as the two-day talks wrapped up in Kuala Lumpur. 

No major breakthroughs came out of this first set of talks in a year between the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebels, the main insurgent group in the Thai Deep South, and Thailand’s first government in nearly a decade to be headed by a civilian. But participants and observers described the meeting as a positive step in building upon previous meetings.  

Echoing the discussions from their last meeting 12 months ago, the Thai and BRN panels agreed to seek common ground on three key issues – public consultations, reduction of violence and political solutions – aimed at ending the separatist conflict in southern Thailand’s heavily militarized and mainly Malay Muslim border region.

“In a nutshell, both parties are very happy with the outcome of the dialogue,” Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, the Malaysian broker for the talks, told reporters afterward. “[A]s you are aware, for the past year, the dialogue has been stalled, not because of any parties, but because of the circumstances whereby Thailand had its general election.

“The peace talks panels have presented an updated and improved version of the Joint Comprehensive Plan toward Peace [JCPP], but there are a few additional recommendations put forth by BRN to guarantee transparency, resulting in a win-win situation at the end of the day,” Zulkifli said. 

The Thai delegation – now led by a civilian – pledged to ease tensions by reducing security checkpoints and cut back on raids in parts of the Deep South during Ramadan and Songkran festival.

Lt. Gen. Pramote Prom-in, deputy commander of the southern army region and a member of the Thai delegation, said the government planned to allow regions of the Deep South to be more accessible. 

It also plans to remove posters of wanted individuals near checkpoints and reduce areas put in place to address suspected insurgent-related activities.

“[The] Thai government is set to reduce numbers of security checkpoints in the troubled regions in Southern Thailand – Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and parts of Songkhla – to facilitate the movement of people throughout the Ramadan and Songkran festival,” said Pramote, who leads the technical team representing Thailand. 

Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, begins on March 10. Songkran, the three-day national holiday marking the Thai New Year, begins on April 13.

“Ideally it will start a week before Ramadan and last until the end of April,” Pramote told BenarNews. 

“But this will also depend on BRN reducing violence in the area. The key to success is the willingness to cooperate.” 

‘Momentum for peace’

After the last meeting of the full delegations took place here in February 2023, the negotiators representing the BRN put a pause on the talks, saying they would wait until after the Thai general election was resolved that year before going back to the table.

A political impasse after the May election lasted about three months before Srettha Thavisin was appointed prime minister and his Pheu Thai party came to power.

In November, Srettha appointed Chatchai Bangchuad to replace Gen. Wanlop Rugsanaoh as the chief Thai negotiator in the peace talks. Until then, Chatchai had served as Wanlop’s deputy on the Thai peace panel.  

On Wednesday, rebel team leader Anas Abdulrahman and his six fellow delegates said they agreed with using the joint comprehensive plan, which is also known as a roadmap for bringing peace to the region.

“In these two days, we primarily focused on finding the direction for the negotiation process,” Anas, who wore traditional Malay Muslim clothes, told reporters after the meeting.

“We hope that the change in the Thai government, purportedly toward democracy, will serve as a momentum for peace in the Patani Malays community and contribute to resolving the prolonged conflict in Patani,” Anas said, referring to the Deep South. 

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Negotiators with the delegation representing Barisan Revolusi Nasional rebels, including leader Anas Abdulrahman (center), participate in a news conference in Kuala Lumpur following their two-day meeting with their counterparts from the Thai government, Feb. 7, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

He noted that discussions planned for upcoming meetings should focus on reaching “genuine, dignified, and lasting” peace. 

The negotiators plan to hold technical meetings later this month and in March, although exact dates have not been confirmed.

“The upcoming discussions will take place on governance in Patani, recognition of the Patani community’s identity, economic and developmental issues, human rights, education, culture and the security system,” Anas said. 

For decades, the BRN has been fighting for independence in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and ethnically Malay southern border provinces.

The Deep South encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala provinces and four districts of Songkhla province. Since the insurgency reignited in January 2004, more than 7,000 people have been killed and more than 13,600 were injured in violence in the region, according to Deep South Watch, a local think-tank.

The Thai government has held direct negotiations with BRN rebels, beginning in 2020. Before that, government negotiators had met with MARA Patani, an umbrella panel representing Deep South rebel organizations and factions including the BRN. 


Chatchai, the government’s new chief negotiator, reaffirmed that the roadmap would be followed as a guide for future meetings.

“As for the signing of the [roadmap], we will have to assess the outcome of this meeting and whether both sides are satisfied with the Joint Comprehensive Plan toward Peace before determining the appropriate time for signing,” he told reporters. 

The first civilian to lead Thailand in the peace talks, Chatchai also serves as deputy secretary-general at the National Security Council and has been involved in peace talks since before Malaysia began brokering efforts in 2013.

“Maybe because I’m a civilian, they feel more comfortable talking with me, but, or even though in the past we have had a military person as a head of the peace panel, these people know the peace process very well,” he told BenarNews in an interview. 

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Chatchai Bangchuad, the first civilian to head Thailand in peace talks with southern BRN rebels, speaks during an interview with BenarNews at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, the venue for the latest meetings between the two sides, Feb. 7, 2024. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Mohd. Mizan Mohammad Aslam, a security analyst at the National Defense University of Malaysia, said it appeared the negotiators were working toward bringing peace to the region.

“[I]t shows that the Thai government is very serious in all of its promises and that means it’s on track, especially in reducing the attacks and issues that are related to the Thai separatists,” he told BenarNews.

The analyst said he hoped that a reduced presence and visibility of the Thai military and security forces in the Deep South would continue beyond Ramadan and Songkran.

Regarding BRN, Aslam said the negotiators’ willingness to participate in the talks shows they are serious about their push for independence.

“Maybe to get to independence or autonomy is still far away, but at least they have taken the first step for a better future.”


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