Updated at 12:40 p.m. ET on 2017-11-02
Two-year-old negotiations with southern rebels will proceed despite reports suggesting that the peace process likely has stalled, Thailand’s chief negotiator said Wednesday.
But an insurgent in the troubled Deep South told BenarNews that rebel attacks would go on anyhow, and in spite of talks aimed at implementing a limited ceasefire.
Aksara Kerdpol, the government’s chief negotiator, blamed local news media for causing public confusion after the delegation that he heads and representatives of MARA Patani, a panel representing insurgent groups in the Thai Deep South, failed in September to iron out disagreements on the creation of a “safety zone,” or an area for a limited ceasefire.
“I reaffirm that the peace is going on, no problem. The other side did not have any problem with it either,” Aksara, a retired army general, told BenarNews in a phone interview. “The media reports or analyses in recent weeks are based on outdated information.”
The retired army general leads a team that has represented the Thai junta in Malaysia-brokered peace talks with MARA since 2015, but both sides have yet to implement a ceasefire after many rounds of closed-door meetings in Kuala Lumpur.
This has led some observers to question whether MARA’s panelists have control over rebel forces operating in the Deep South, and whether they truly represent the rank-and-file of separatist groups such as Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the most powerful of active rebel organizations. The talks have not stopped violence in the region.
‘Other methods are just theater’
On Wednesday, a southern militant who identified himself only as “Sulaiman,” said his group had received orders to keep mounting attacks against security forces.
“We have the upper hand for our goal for independence. We receive orders to continue with attacks regardless of the attempt on safety zone,” he told BenarNews in a phone interview. “Sometimes nature disallows this, so we make a pause. There still are targets to attack.”
“I personally think the armed struggle is the only effective method of fighting. Other methods are just theater,” he said. “There is no other way to make the government treat people humanely but violence.”
Responding to Aksara’s latest comments, a MARA Patani spokesman based in Malaysia echoed that peace talks had not stalled.
“Although there is no [current] discussion together with the [Malaysian] facilitator, communication and discussion are still ongoing as we are preparing for the ‘security zone,’ and the Thais have been busy with royal funerals,” Abu Hafez Al-Hakim told BenarNews, referring to last week’s cremation in Bangkok of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
In September, Abu Hafez had insisted in an interview with Benar that the BRN was involved in the current peace efforts.
“Awang Jabat is the MARA Patani chairman … Sukree Haree is the chief of the dialogue team while Ahmad Chuwo is also on the dialogue team. All of them are BRN members,” he said at the time.
‘It will agree on safety zone’
In February, the government announced that it had reached a pact with MARA Patani. The agreement would involve a framework for setting up a safety zone or a ceasefire in one district of the Deep South.
Local media reports questioned the viability of the peace process after the two sides failed to finalize the agreement during the peace talks held in Kuala Lumpur in September.
Aksara told BenarNews on Wednesday that a Thai joint technical team had selected the district where a safety zone would be implemented.
But he declined to identify the district or divulge the date of his next meeting with the insurgents.
“MARA Patani still talks to us and it will agree on safety zone,” he said.
Meanwhile, deadly violence in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South has simmered on.
Between October 2016 and September 2017, as many as 233 soldiers, policemen and defense volunteers have been killed in roadside bombings and insurgent attacks in the Deep South, according to the regional office of Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).
The decades-old insurgency flared up again in 2004, when rebels began staging attacks to oppose Buddhist rule in Thailand’s far southern border region.
During the past 13 years, almost 7,000 people have been killed in bombings and shooting incidents in the provinces that were part of a Malay Muslim sultanate before being annexed by Bangkok in 1909.