Thailand May Re-Open Peace Talks With Southern Rebels in November: Official

BenarNews Staff
151012-TH-1000 Members of MARA Patani, an umbrella group representing various southern Thai rebel groups in negotiations with Thailand, appear at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 27, 2015.

Thailand's military government, which took power in May last year, expects to hold its first official talks with Muslim rebels from the country’s insurgency-battered Deep South next month, a senior military officer said, despite skepticism over the peace process by a rebel faction.

“The peace talks will go on and I expect to have an official round of talks by mid-November,” Lt. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong told BenarNews.

Nakrob is the secretary of a Thai negotiating team that has met informally this year in neighboring Malaysia with representatives of various southern rebel groups in a series of closed-door sessions aimed at persuading the insurgents to formally re-open peace talks.

The elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a military coup last year, had held peace talks with the rebels in 2013 but they were suspended that year due to political tensions in Bangkok.

Nakrob said several rounds of informal talks might be held before the official meeting with rebels.

“Prior to this we may have small rounds of talks. Everything is on the table.”

Nakrob also dismissed a four-page statement by a rebel group claiming to represent the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (the Patani Malay National Revolutionary Front, or BRN).

The statement, issued by the group’s information department, is just part of a “PR” strategy, he said.

“BRN representatives in MARA Patani confirmed that the talks will continue. We had back-door communication on this,” Nakrob said.

‘Patani-Malay nation must be recognized’

The statement, dated Oct. 12 and obtained by BenarNews, appears to have been issued by a faction of the BRN that has not agreed to be part of MARA Patani, an umbrella group representing various insurgent groups from Thailand’s Deep South region.

At least three of MARA’s seven-member negotiating are members of BRN, including the umbrella group’s chairman, Awang Jabat.

The Deep South is a predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region made up of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala provinces and four districts in Songkhla province. Since 2004, at least 6,000 people have died in violence related to the separatist insurgency.

“BRN is prepared to achieve peace through peaceful means, however such a peace process must be dignified and sincere in its pursuit of peace,” the statement said.

“Not a peace process used as a form of political subterfuge in order to deceive and undermine the strategy of the Patani-Malay people’s advancement…” it added.

The statement goes on to demand that international mediators be brought in to move the peace process along, and it also appears to touch on another demand that led to the last round of formal peace talks stalling in December 2013: that Thailand recognize the sovereignty of “Patani.”

“Negotiations should be conducted formally in accordance with international standards and norms, which included the engagement of a mediator and observers from other states,” the statement said.

“Because the Patani problem concerns the colonization of one nation over another nation, the position and existence of the Patani-Malay nation must be recognized.”

‘Highest objective’

These were also among a set of demands made by BRN negotiators who led the rebel side in the last round of official talks in 2013. But those negotiators, including Hassan Bin Toyib and Abdul Karim Khalib, are not part of MARA Patani.

On Sept. 7, Khalib, who identified himself as the spokesman for BRN appeared in a six-minute video posted on YouTube. In it, he read out a declaration stating that “independence for Patani” remained BRN’s “highest objective.”

This statement was very similar to one made by MARA Patani when its representatives introduced themselves to reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 27, two days after the umbrella group met with the Thai delegation led by Gen. Aksara Kerdpol.

MARA Patani officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the statement from the BRN faction.


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