Thai Junta Chief Asks Rebel Group to Bring Up New Demands with Malaysia

Araya Poejar and BenarNews staff
Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand
170411-TH-police-1000.jpg Border patrol police inspect the scene where insurgents knocked down utility poles with bombs on Route 42 in Pattani’s Mayo District, April 7, 2017.

Thailand’s military junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha on Tuesday asked the most powerful Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate state in the country’s Deep South to convey its demands for revamping a peace building mechanism to Malaysia, the process facilitator.

The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) had suggested Monday it wants a direct role in fresh talks that have been held in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur since 2015 to end the decades-old insurgency.

It had also called for mediation by a neutral third party and the participation of international observers.

“Whoever wants to talk peace with us, as we have Malaysia as the facilitator, [it] must propose via the facilitator,” Prayuth, Thailand’s prime minister, said in response to reporters’ questions about the BRN statement which appeared to reject the government’s current peace efforts with MARA Patani, an umbrella rebel panel which includes BRN.

He also made it clear that the junta would not hold any direct talks with rebels in Thailand and ruled out the participation of third parties.

“Regarding the participation of third parties in the peace talks, why do we need them,” Prayuth asked.

“We can solve our own problems. Why do we need someone else in? How can they understand the issues?”

He stressed that the government was committed to resolving the conflict, saying it “wants the situation to die down soonest” and that it would “fix the problems wherever they are.”

Some analysts interpreted the BRN statement as a signal that it wanted to negotiate directly with the Thai junta, rejecting MARA Patani’s lead role and questioning Malaysia’s impartiality as mediator in the peace process.

Umbrella group

In February, MARA Patani and the Thai government had agreed to a framework for setting up a safety zone – or limited ceasefire – in one of the districts touched by the insurgency, in which nearly 7,000 people have been killed since 2004 in the predominantly Muslim region.

Analysts said MARA Patani, which consists of exiled insurgents in Malaysia, has little power on the ground.

“The BRN wants the government to deal with it, not MARA Patani, and they want some sort of clear road map for talks and deliverables,” said Zachary Abuza, a U.S.-based expert on insurgencies in Southeast Asia.

Abu Hafez Al-Hakim, a spokesman for MARA Patani, told BRN Tuesday to get its act together, saying it was already participating in the peace process through its representatives in a rebel panel in talks with Thai officials.

“There are already BRN representatives at the table now and they just have to coordinate among themselves, which is the best way to cooperate and rectify any shortcomings with their other colleagues from PULO, BIPP and GMIP,” he told BenarNews.

MARA Patani lists its members as BRN, the Patani Islamic Liberation Front (BIPP) two factions of Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), and the Islamic Mujahideen Movement of Patani (GMIP).

Abu Hafez, who said he was speaking in his personal capacity, described the BRN statement as a postive development considering that it has not directly rejected peace talks as key to ending the insurgency.

“Any agreement between the Thai government and Mara Patani would not be struck any time soon. There are still many issues that need to be discussed at this level,” he said.

“Such an agreement in the future will surely involve all stake-holders, including the Thai government, representatives of rebel groups and the local community. Only through this way can progress be achieved and peace be restored.”

The BRN statement on Monday came three days after 23 “acts of sabotage” – a combination of bomb blasts and arson attacks – rocked the Deep South, took out utility poles and caused power outages in the region. Police blamed rebels for carrying out the acts and have since arrested four suspects.

Razlan Rashid in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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