Thai Deep South: Independence No. 1 Goal, BRN Video Says

150908-TH-brn-620 Abdul Karim Khalib of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebel group criticizes Thai “colonialism” in a six-minute video posted online, Sept. 7, 2015.

Updated at 12:23 p.m. ET on 2015-09-09

A new online video from one of southern Thailand’s main rebel groups reveals potential internal divisions over current efforts to re-start formal peace talks with the Thai government, an expert on the separatist conflict told BenarNews.

In a six-minute video uploaded to YouTube on Monday, a spokesman for the “information department of Barisan Revolusi Nasional,” one of the longstanding rebel groups in Thailand’s Deep South, read out a declaration stating that “independence for Patani” remained BRN’s “highest objective.”

The video is significant because it is the first released by one of the southern insurgent groups since peace talks stalled in December 2013.

“This statement belongs to parts of BRN who support an old-school way of fighting with violence, and this is an announcement of its stance,” Srisomphob Chitpiromsri, director of Deep South Watch, an NGO based in Pattani province that monitors the conflict in the region, said Tuesday.

Pattani is one of the provinces in Thailand’s southern border region where a large majority of the population is Muslim and Malay-speaking. Since 2004, more than 6,000 people have been killed and 10,000 injured in violence associated with the insurgency.

“It is a reflection that, within BRN, there are differences on the peace-talk process. But I believe the statement will not affect the dialogue,” Srisomphob added.

He was referring to back-channel efforts since April that aim to start formal peace talks between the rebel side and Thailand’s military-controlled government, which seized power in May 2014. The last round of official peace talks took place in 2013 under a civilian-led government.

Last month, a new group called MARA Patani introduced itself as an umbrella body that would represent various Deep South rebel organizations and factions as a unified front in future peace talks.

MARA Patani Chairman Awang Jabat and its chief negotiator, Sukree Haree, are senior BRN officials.

After the last session of closed-door talks in Kuala Lumpur with a Thai delegation headed by Gen. Aksara Kerdpol, Awang stated at a news conference there that independence remained the overarching goal of MARA Patani’s constituent members.

‘One language, one nation’

The video features a lone speaker, who identified himself as Abdul Karim Khalib in videos released by the BRN in 2013.

The new video does not mention MARA Patani, but it questions the integrity and trustworthiness of the Thai side, accusing Thailand of “deception” and “”manipulation” in the past.

“The peace talks cannot be trusted not to repeat the deception the colonizers carried out in the past, because the colonizers are known for manipulation and terrorism,” Abdul says.

Abdul had been part of the rebel delegation in the 2013 negotiations, which were brokered by Malaysia. But he did not appear alongside the seven men representing MARA Patani in Kuala Lumpur.

In the video, Abdul claims that a colonial policy of “divide and rule” has controlled the so-called region of Patani since the year 1786.

“As long as the political ideology of the colonizer doesn’t change, and acknowledge the right of self-determination of the Patani Malay people according to U.N. [General Assembly]Resolution 1514, the revolution of the Patani Malay people will continue, until the Patani Malay people achieve freedom,” the speaker warns.

“Finally, we state that this declaration is a recognition of our united stance: one nation, one language and one country. No right. No left. Independence or Syahid [glorious death],” he adds.

‘Genuinely sincere’

On Wednesday, Patani United Liberation Organization President Kasturi Mahkota, who is a MARA Patani member, told BenarNews that the video featuring Abdul Karim Khalib did not appear to criticize the peace-making efforts of the umbrella group.

“The video did not show the slightest resistance to MARA Pattani. It only refers to the resistance against the Thai side,” Kasturi said in an email.

“So, for me and PULO, the dialogue process is not affected and will continue as usual.

Earlier, Maj. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong, a Thai army officer who is closely involved in governmental efforts to persuade the rebels to come back to the negotiating table, had struck a similar note, saying the video “should not have any impact on the peace talks.”

“The Thai government has genuine sincerity toward the peace talk process,” Nakrob told BenarNews on Tuesday.

“I don’t know when this clip was recorded. It didn’t criticize MARA Patani. If it doesn’t agree with MARA Patani, the clip should have mentioned it by name.”

At the Aug. 25 meeting in Kuala Lumpur, MARA Patani laid down several conditions for going ahead with a new round of talks. The rebels demanded that the government recognize MARA Patani as a legitimate negotiating body, as well as guarantee immunity for its negotiators.

The issue of immunity for members of the rebels’ negotiating team is a delicate one, Nakrob said.

“We cannot set an ‘official talk’ yet because subcommittees are pondering the three terms raised during the latest pre-talk,” he said.

Hata Wahari contributed to this report.


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