Thailand, southern rebels agree to 40-day Ramadan peace initiative

Muzliza Mustafa, Nisha David and Mariyam Ahmad
2022.04.01
Kuala Lumpur and Pattani, Thailand
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Thailand, southern rebels agree to 40-day Ramadan peace initiative Anas Abdulrahman, the head of the peace talks panel for the BRN, a southern Thai separatist rebel group, speaks at a press conference at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur, April 1, 2022.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

The warring sides in Thailand’s Deep South conflict agreed to a 40-day pause in violence to cover Ramadan and, in a first, unarmed rebels will be allowed to visit their families during the holy month, officials said after the latest peace talks hosted by Malaysia wrapped up Friday.

Malaysia facilitated the two days of peace talks between the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist insurgents and the Thai government – the second round of negotiations this year – at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur.

“Both parties have agreed to [a] violence reduction agenda during Ramadan,” the Muslim holy month of fasting that starts this week, as a “confidence-building and trust-building” measure, Abdul Rahim Noor, the Malaysian peace broker for the talks, told reporters at the end of the latest meetings.

A BRN representative said the “two main parties agreed to stop the violence” in the Deep South as part of the “Ramadan Peace Initiative,” which will last until May 14.

“This agreement is to create a peaceful and prosperous atmosphere for the Patani community in particular and a confidence-building process between the two sides to create peace,” Anas Abdulrahman, the leader of the BRN delegation who is also known as Hipni Mareh, told reporters at a separate press conference.

Patani is the name given to the Thai southern border region by BRN and other armed groups who have been waging a decades-long armed separatist insurgency against Buddhist-majority Thailand.

In addition, according to a statement from Rahim Noor, the Thais agreed to a request from the rebel side that “BRN members can return home to spend time with their family during Ramadhan” without fear of arrest but “with conditions that they promise not to carry out any attacks and not to carry weapons home.”

Thai authorities will also allow BRN members in prison to be with their family members during Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, Rahim Noor said. At the same time, fighters who live across the border in Malaysia could return to the Deep South during Ramadan after registering with the Malaysian authorities.

The Thai authorities also agreed not to arrest BRN members or conduct raids during Ramadan. While BRN agreed to conduct no attacks, according to Rahim Noor, the Thai authorities did not agree explicitly to “no violence,” saying they would retaliate if provoked.

The BRN, a highly secretive organization, is the largest and most potent of the armed groups in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South, with many of its members and sympathizers believed to be living on the Malaysian side of the border.

The “truce” to which both sides agreed covers Songkran as well, the Thai new year’s festival that falls on April 13-15, the Malaysian facilitator said. 

The Ramadan agreement to reduce violence “shows the world that there is hope for peace in the Deep South and there is opportunity to solve the real problem via peace dialogue process,” he said.

Gen. Wanlop Rugsanaoh, the Thai peace talks panel chief, was expected to hold a press conference here on Saturday.

Late in the evening on Friday, the Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur issued a statement about the latest round of talks.

“The two sides achieved a significant progress which will be an important milestone that will bring about long-lasting peace to the southern border provinces of Thailand,” it said.

The parties also mutually agreed on the Peaceful Ramadan Initiative “to create [an] environment conducive to peace during the holy month of Ramadan.”

The one-page Thai statement did not specify the provision mentioned by Rahim Noor allowing BRN members to travel home to be with their families during the fasting month.  

Rahim-Noor.jpg
Malaysian peace talks facilitator Rahim Noor speaks to reporters after the BRN-Thailand meeting near Kuala Lumpur, April 1, 2022. [S. Mahfuz/ BenarNews]

Meanwhile in the Deep South, a resident lauded the Ramadan Initiative.

“If they can do that, people can live a normal life,” Yaowadee Doloh, a resident of Yala province, told BenarNews. “I pray for eternal peace. The military and BRN should be able to control their men and honor the ceasefire. They are key players in the Deep South violence.” 

According to Thai officials, a younger brother of Abdul Aziz Jabal, one of the members of the BRN panel at the peace talks, was shot and wounded in Yala town on Thursday, the first day of the talks.

BRN, in a Facebook post, condemned the shooting and said the incident had nothing to do with the peace process. On Friday, a Thai army spokesman said that authorities were investigating the cases, but the motive was still unknown.

The shooting came a day after two policemen were killed and two others injured in a roadside bombing in Bannang Sata, another district in Yala, one of the provinces in the Deep South.

A Thai political analyst said that the pause in violence during Ramadan would likely succeed.

“If both sides have agreed to the Ramadan Initiative, it’s likely possible that they would honor the agreement,” said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, director of Deep South Watch.

“Most importantly, the BRN must continue with the peace talks. The BRN must monitor the situation to ensure none of its members carry out an attack. If something goes wrong, it must assess the incident and what is going on to prevent future disruption,” Srisompob told BenarNews.

Three-point agreement

According to Rahim Noor and Anas both, the talks over two days had resulted in a positive discussion, with a “General Principles” agreement on three issues: reduction of violence, public consultation, and political solution.

“The meeting has churned out positive output as both the parties, for the first time, agreed to General Principles in discussing three substantive issues,” Rahim Noor said, adding that the two sides exchanged documents signed by two independent observers.

While the Thai authorities and BRN representatives did not sign the document on General Principles, they both issued letters of endorsement agreeing on them, Rahim Noor and Anas said.

“The efforts made by the Thai government and BRN should be acknowledged and supported by all in the community because both panels showed the credibility and efforts to create peace in Deep South,” Rahim Noor said.

The two sides agreed to form three joint-working groups, each with three members from both parties, to hash out the three topics outlined in the document, he and Anas said.

The two sides also discussed the framework, or Terms of Reference, for the joint working groups, Anas said without elaborating.

When a BenarNews reported asked him whether Malaysia could be a neutral broker of the talks – as some observers had questioned – Rahim Noor replied that Kuala Lumpur would not take sides.

“They can make any assumption or conclusion because not only are we neighbors with the Deep South, the Patani people are also Malay and Thai-Muslim. But Malaysia is always professional,” he said.

“We remain bipartisan. We do not side with any parties.”

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