Thailand: Southern Peace Talks Delayed
Thai officials trying to restart peace talks with southern rebels are having difficulty getting different insurgent factions to the negotiating table, a person closely involved in the process told BenarNews.
Maj. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong, of the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC), said in a phone interview on Friday that he was nevertheless pressing on with efforts to get a new round of official talks going with separatists from Thailand’s Deep South region.
The process was still in the delicate stage of confidence building, as he described it.
“There is a need to build triangular trust among Thailand, Malaysia and the various dissident groups,” Nakrob said.
Last month, he had told BenarNews that Malaysia-brokered peace talks were expected to take place in late May or early June. Earlier in May, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, Thailand’s deputy prime minister and defense minister, went on the record as saying that talks likely would happen later that month.
A fresh round of talks was being held up because elements among the “dissident” groups with different views had yet to agree to come back to the table, Nakrob said.
“We need to build mutual trust,” he said, “And to verify that they are legitimate representatives. I didn’t know who is who and what type of person they are.”
According to a Thai academic involved in previous rounds of peace talks, Thai government negotiators held a secret meeting early this month with rebel-group representatives in Kuala Lumpur.
They were trying to broker a ceasefire ahead of the talks, but the two sides came away empty-handed.
“As far as I know, there was a meeting on June 8 or 9, between the Thai government representatives and those of MARA Patani, in Kuala Lumpur,” Srisompob Jitpiromsri, an assistant professor and director of the Center for Conflict Studies and Cultural Diversity at Prince of Songkla University in Pattani province, told BenarNews.
Srisompob was referring to an umbrella group, MARA Patani, which was established recently among six rebel groups in order to negotiate with the government as a united front.
The umbrella consists of three factions of the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) and three other rebel groups: the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), Barisan Islam Perberbasan Patani (BIPP), and Gerakan Mujahideen Islami Patani (GMIP).
These are separatist groups that have been fighting the Thai government in order to bring about the predominantly Muslim Deep South’s secession from the kingdom. The region comprises the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and some districts in Songkhla province.
According to Srisompob, the secret talks in Kuala Lumpur focused on a proposed truce during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which started Thursday.
“There was a talk of a ‘ceasefire’ during Ramadan period but both sides could not strike such an agreement. We cannot say that there was an agreement to cease fire during Ramadan,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Nakrob would not confirm that a pre-talk meeting with various rebel groups had taken place in Malaysia earlier this month.
But he acknowledged that the government tried to persuade the rebel side to agree to a truce as a precursor to peace talks.
“I talked about the truce, not only for the Ramadan time but for any other activities for the sake of unity of human races and their beliefs,” he said.
As many as 473 southern rebels, however, did agree to take part in a Thai military program granting temporary immunity from arrest so they could come out of hiding and reunite with their families during Ramadan, officials said.
The temporary immunity was granted on condition that they not commit acts of violence during the Muslim holy month, Thai officials said.
The program kicked off at a ceremony in Narathiwat on Monday.
A new round of talks would be the first under the Thai junta, which seized power from the civilian-led government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.
The last round of talks took place under her watch, but they stalled in December 2013.
Thailand signed an initial agreement with BRN in Kuala Lumpur in February 2013, which paved the way for two consequent rounds of talks.
That process hit a snag when BRN chief negotiator Hassan Bin Toyib later announced five demands via a video posted on YouTube that the government rejected.
Those demands called for the government to grant all territory within the Deep South sovereignty and to recognize the “Patani Malay Nation.”
The rebels’ demands were too extreme and left no room for progress in the negotiations, Srisompob said.
“There were no adjustments to the terms or demands. For instance, the demands on identity (of Patani Malay), self-ruling or autonomy, the ones they have been asking for a long time,” he said.
‘Our ultimate goal’
In a separate interview, an insurgent based in Pattani’s Nong Chik district said that secessionists rejected the concept of autonomy, or Patani Maha Nakhon , and would accept nothing less than sovereignty over the land.
“For our organization, there is no such thing as Patani Maha Nakhon as being pitched by the civil society,” the rebel, who spoke on condition of anonymity and that he not be identified by affiliation, told BenarNews.
To prove its sincerity in building up mutual trust ahead of any new peace talks, the Thai government should release insurgent Sama-ea Sa-ae, also known as Hayee Isama-ea Thanam, by the end of Ramadan, the rebel said.
“The land is our ultimate goal. The promoters of the autonomy idea are putting their words into Patani Malay people’s mouths,” he said.