Thai team for peace talks with rebels in the south may be known early next month

Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Members of the government team for peace talks with separatist groups in the far South have not been assigned yet as the selection process is still ongoing, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday.

But with PM General Prayut Chan-o-chan scheduled to officially visit Malaysia on Dec 1, the make-up of negotiators is expected to be known shortly after his trip.

Thailand’s preparation for the Malaysian-facilitated peace talks has so far seen General Aksara Kerdpol, the chairman of the army’s advisory panel, chosen to head the Thai team.

Thawil Pliensri, the former secretary-general of the National Security Council, visited Malaysia to coordinate the talks before retiring from the NSC post. Thai officials were also sent to help draft terms of reference and other details of the talks. But the identity of these officials has not been revealed yet or formally announced.

An informed source said many people hope that Prayut’s Dec 1 visit to Kuala Lumpur and talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will “kick off” a new round of peace talks and that members of the Thai negotiating team should be set after the premier’s trip.

The source said the NSC and Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) had proposed a three-tier team structure and a talking point framework for Prayut to consider. This is reportedly comprised of three levels:

lA policy-level coordination committee to be chaired by the PM or deputy PM, with the Foreign Affairs permanent secretary, Justice permanent secretary, NSC secretary-general, ISOC secretary-general, Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre chief and National Intelligence Agency (NIA) director as committee members. This committee would also have an advisory panel that would include Gen Akanit Muansawat.

lPeace talk negotiators headed by Aksara, with 10-12 officials representing the NSC, Justice and Foreign Affairs ministries, ISOC, the Army, NIA, academics and specialists.

lA regional coordination panel mainly from the ISOC Region 4 front command.

Meanwhile, two suspected insurgents, killed in a gunfight with security officers in Pattani’s Nong Chik district last Friday, were involved in the unrest since 2005, Yala police’s deputy chief Pol Col Narin Busaman alleged yesterday. Russadee Baerosamae, 33, and Abdullahman Jaetam, 31 were both natives of Yala’s Raman district.

Narin said the duo was involved in violence in Pattani and had started as early as July 5, 2005, when Police Senior Sergeant Major Samphan Anyala was shot dead and decapitated in Yarang district.

He said Thai authorities now were investigating photos of “Saifullah Pejuang Bumi Fathoni” (Fathoni warriors) – men wearing camouflage clothing and carrying war weapons – found in the cell phones of five suspects who surrendered in the same operation last Friday.

Security was beefed up, meanwhile, at Narathiwat’s 300 schools to prevent violent attacks, after the fatal shooting of teacher Isara Chairitchok, 53, in Pattani’s Khok Pho district on Saturday.

Boonsom Thongsriprai, chairman of the Confederation of Teachers of the Three Southern Border Provinces, said Isara was the 179th teacher killed in the unrest.

He urged teachers and innocent people to be cautious, saying insurgents may target them in retaliation for the crackdown by security officers. He said he would call a meeting of Pattani teachers to discuss better security after Isara’s cremation on Thursday.

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