Thursday, 27 August 2015

Thai army, Muslim rebels hold closed-door peace talks in Malaysia

BANGKOK: A Thai delegation led by special advisor to the Royal Thai Army General Aksara Kerdpol met with representatives of Thailand's southern militant groups in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday (Aug 25).

It is the third round of secret peace negotiations, brokered by Malaysia’s National Intelligence Agency, since the Thai military staged a coup last year. The first two rounds took place in April and June, respectively.

Thai officials say these closed-door meetings lay the foundation for public talks that may take place at the end of this year or at the start of 2016.

"Those things both sides agree on we can make public, and for those things we cannot agree on the talks continue covertly,” said Major-General Nakrob Boonbuathong, deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command's 5th Operations Coordinator Center and a secretariat at the peace talks. “Such a thing could not be achieved in an open process."

The former Yingluck Shinawatra government initiated peace talks in 2013.

The six Thai Muslim separatist groups bandied together earlier this year, under an umbrella called Mara Patani. It includes, Barisan Revolusi Nasional, Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Patani; Barisan Islam Pembebasan Patani, and three factions of Patani Liberation Organisation.

General Aksara says the insurgents have renamed themselves to remove the old image of violence. And both sides are looking to establish violence-free “safe zones” in the southern provinces. More than 6,400 people have been killed since 2004 in the battle for autonomy in Thailand’s deep south.


Observers have welcomed the resumption of peace talks after they were interrupted by political conflict at the end of 2013 in Bangkok. But they say other approaches are needed to end the 11-year insurgency.

"Regardless of the change of government, the focus of the peace dialogue is identifying leaders of separatists and engaging with them either through persuasion or coercion,” said Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch senior researcher on Thailand. “But the focus is about leadership. What is lacking entirely is how to reach out to the masses."

Only security officials are involved in the peace dialogue this year, with no one representing civil society and academia.

“By not including civilians who are not officials in these talks, the government risks not getting the views from the civil society and academia. This could be a weakness,” said Dr Srisompob Jitpiromsri, director of the Deep South Watch at Prince Songkla University.

According to local reports, Mara Patani will hold its first media conference on Aug 27 in Kuala Lumpur, and Thai security sources have hinted the next round of “secret” talks could take place in September or October. (CNA)

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