Thailand’s Deep South: Government Team Met With Rebels in November

BenarNews Staff
151123-TH-peacetalks-620 Thai bomb squad members inspect the scene of a car bombing that killed one person and injured 33 others in southern Yala province, April 6, 2014.

Representatives of Thailand’s junta and southern Thai rebels groups met in Kuala Lumpur this month for another round of closed-door meetings aimed at reopening formal peace talks, officials from both sides confirmed Monday.

News of the meeting in the Malaysian capital on Nov. 11 and 12 surfaced in the past several days, when Thai news outlets reported that so-called “safe zones,” or ceasefire zones, had been created in Narathiwat – one of the southern border provinces that make up Thailand’s restive Deep South – as a result of those informal talks.

But a member of the government’s negotiating team and a negotiator for MARA Patani, an umbrella group representing Deep South rebel groups and factions in pre-peace talk meetings, both denied that the two sides had agreed to establish any safe zones in Narathiwat.

“We have not discussed safety zones and we agreed that we would not release information on this,” Lt. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong, the secretary of the Thai negotiating team in southern peace efforts, told BenarNews on Monday.

Col. Kasturi Mahkota, a spokesman for MARA Patani and a leader of the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), one of the rebel groups, confirmed to BenarNews that the latest pre-peace talk meeting took place.

On Sunday, MARA Patani posted a statement on the website of Deep South Watch (DSW) denying the implementation of safe zones. DSW is an organization based in Narathiwat that monitors violence in the predominantly Muslim region and efforts to settle the separatist conflict, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives since 2004.

“MARA Patani would like to inform the parties that now the talks are still in the process of building mutual trust. It also is not officially talking, so there should be no substantial discussion, including [about] the safety zones,” Sukree Haree, the chief negotiator for MARA Patani said in the statement.

Both Nakrob and Mahkota told BenarNews that the two sides agreed to set up a panel to iron out details needed to clear the way for the opening of formal peace talks. But neither specified those details.

The last round of formal peace talks took place in 2013, when a civilian-led government ruled Thailand. But while the junta and MARA has come out with statements in recent months expressing confidence in saying that they were on track to open formal peace talks, experts on the conflict in the Deep South last week told BenarNews that these efforts were unlikely to succeed because, they said, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) – the largest and most heavily armed of the southern rebel groups – had abandoned the current peace process.

“They just said there is nothing that is being offered to us that makes us even willing to show up,” Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington D.C. and an expert on conflicts in Southeast Asia, told BenarNews, referring to the BRN.

Meanwhile, Thai and MARA Patani officials have yet to say whether the BRN has abandoned this effort outright or whether there is a split within the group’s ranks. Haree Sukree and at least two other men who sit on the seven-member MARA Patani team identify themselves as senior BRN leaders.

When BenarNews asked Sukree and the two others about the apparent rift, they declined to say anything about it.

Hata Wahari contributed to this report.


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