Anwar: Malaysia won’t condone violence to resolve Thai Deep South conflict

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Anwar: Malaysia won’t condone violence to resolve Thai Deep South conflict Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (left) and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha talk during a welcoming ceremony at Government House in Bangkok, Feb. 9, 2023.
Thai News Pix/BenarNews

Malaysia is unequivocally against violence as a means to resolve the insurgency in southern Thailand, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said in Bangkok on Thursday during his first official visit to the neighboring country.

It is essential to bring peace and settle the separatist conflict in the Muslim Malay-majority Deep South, where more than 7,000 people have been killed in violence since 2004, Anwar said.

Several analysts hope that the new Malaysian PM will give ongoing Kuala Lumpur-brokered peace talks between Thailand and Deep South insurgents a shot in the arm because of his abiding interest in the issue and the region that shares a border with Malaysia.

“I’ve come here with a clear categorical message. The government of Malaysia will not condone any sources of violence to resolve any conflicts,” Anwar told reporters during a joint news conference with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

“We will exercise our right as friends, as family members of both countries, Malaysia and Thailand, and ASEAN, to express our concerns – our ultimate concerns – while acknowledging that south Thailand is purely an internal issue within Thailand.”

He said that he and Prayuth discussed the issue to secure “lasting peace for both countries.”

The insurgency reignited in January 2004 in the Thai Deep South, which comprises the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, and four districts of Songkhla province.

More than 7,300 people have been killed and 13,500 others injured in violence across the region since then, according to Deep South Watch, a local think-tank. Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) has been fighting to establish an independent state for Malay Muslims who form the majority of the population in the southern border region.

Such incidents, Anwar said, “have led to distrust [and] resentment.”

“And we have to appeal to both forces, in Thailand, the South, and even in Malaysia to understand that peace is a paramount situation … we have to ensure and impress upon our friends, on both sides of the border, to resolve this,” Anwar said.

On the day of his visit, six Thai soldiers who were on patrol to protect a railway were slightly injured in a bomb and gun attack by suspected rebels in Rue Soh, a district in Narathiwat, according to officials.

Anwar wants to ‘make it his legacy’

The Malaysian prime minister, on whom many are pinning their hopes for a solution to the impasse in the Deep South, spoke about his country’s “duty” to facilitate the process toward peace.

“That is why we agreed to appoint an acceptable facilitator from a retired chief of our armed forces, known to the PM to work and find ways to assist,” Anwar told the media.

Anwar was referring to one of his first major foreign policy initiatives – to change the Malaysian facilitator of the peace talks between negotiators representing the Thai government and BRN.

These talks began in early 2020, just before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Malaysia, but haven’t made much headway.

Anwar last month replaced former national police chief Abdul Rahim Noor as the broker for the peace talks, with Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, an ex-head of Malaysia’s armed forces.

“I am personally known to many colleagues in the south and the trust deficit, concerns on issues of culture [and] religion will be addressed,” Anwar said.

Zulkifli made his first official visit to Thailand last week, with the next official round of peace talks scheduled to be held in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 21 and 22.

Thai PM Prayuth, who led the joint briefing with Anwar, affirmed the two countries’ cooperation on Deep South matters, according to a joint statement.

Prayuth “agreed to further strengthen cooperation in border security management in order to combat transnational crimes and other cross-border illegal activities.”

The two leaders also “reiterated the importance of promoting peace and security in the border areas between the two countries through further enhancing a balanced, inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development” in the border provinces, the statement said.

Commenting on Anwar’s visit, one Thai government official said he believed Anwar wanted to make the resolution of the Deep South conflict something he would be remembered for.

“I believe PM Anwar has an intention to undertake the matter to make it his legacy,” Panitan Wattanayagorn, chief security adviser to the Thai government, told BenarNews.

“He took part in the border issues from the beginning, that is, common border security management and joint patrol. This would intercept the fugitives from Malaysia who cross to Thailand and vice versa. This prevents people from crossing into Thailand to cause trouble,” Panitan said.

The official was referring to Thai allegations that some insurgents come in from Malaysia to carry out attacks and then return, or, having carried out attacks, flee across the border to Malaysia.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, the chief minister of a border state affected by the insurgency praised the plan for economic development along the border with Thailand, calling it “timely.”

“Malaysia-Thailand’s joint efforts to resolve the decades-long insurgency in southern Thailand, if fruitful, could spur economic growth in both countries especially in the bordering states including Perlis, the northern state in Malaysia,” said Perlis Chief Minister Mohd. Shukri Ramli.

“I have discussed the issue with Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim during his visit to Perlis previously. It would be a great opportunity to boost our economy by reopening the border as the trading activities are flourishing day in and day out on the other side.”

Mariyam Ahmad in Pattani, Thailand, and Ili Shazwani Ihsan in Perlis, Malaysia, contributed to this report.


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