By Ranger, Thai Intel’s political journalist
A few months back, Philippines, with the help of Malaysia, brokered a deal with one of its Rebel movement. And there was a great deal of excitement in ASEAN. The excitement spread to Thailand, where Thailand is also being hit by a rebel movement.
At that time, that most were optimistic about chances for Malaysia to help Thailand, Thai Intelligence News reported, that the differences between the Rebel Movements in Thailand and the Philippines was that in Thailand, the political wing of the Rebel has lost much of its power. Thai Intelligence News reported, what that means, is most of the power, with the Rebel Movement in Thailand, is with the armed fraction.
Is the planned talk between the BRN and Thai authority, broker by Malaysia, a positive development? There is no doubt about it, the planned talk is a very positive step, particularly, in helping win the heart and minds of the people in the Deep South, Thailand, to be against the violence.
But how optimistic should an observer be?
Ever since a dramatic raid on a Thai army base in January 2004 announced an aggressive new drive for a separate Islamic state in the far south of Thailand, a great deal about this insurgency has remained a puzzle.
Who are its leaders? What exactly do they want? How many are there? Are they prepared to negotiate? It seems some of them are.
Hassan Taib, from an older generation of campaigners who largely abandoned their armed struggle against the Thai state in the 1990s, has just signed an agreement with Lt-Gen Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary general of Thailand’s National Security Council. It sets out a loose framework for talks between the two sides, due to start in two weeks.
Thailand has agreed for the first time to hold peace talks with Muslim militants in the south of the country, an apparent breakthrough towards ending a nearly decade-long conflict that has claimed more than 5,000 lives.
Senior Thai government officials signed the deal on Thursday with members of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, where they agreed to launch a “dialogue process” in the southern border provinces. They gave no date for future meetings.
The agreement was signed ahead of a meeting later on Thursday between Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and her Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, after which further details would be made public, Malaysian officials said.
“God willing we’ll do our best to solve the problem,” said BRN’s Hassan Taib after a brief signing ceremony. “We will tell our people to work together to solve the problem.”
Thai authorities have blamed BRN, or the National Revolution Front, for organising a bloody Islamic insurgency that has been a daily fact of life in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces since 2004.
The violence has ranged from beheadings and roadside bombings to teacher shootings in Buddhist schools, with most of the victims being civilian Buddhist Thais and Muslim Malays. It is believed security forces and teachers are singled out as they represent the Thai Buddhist government but the daily violence has prompted some locals to turn against the insurgents.
In one of the most recent clashes Thai marines killed 16 insurgents who were attacking a military base in Narathiwat province. It was the deadliest toll the insurgency had seen since more than 100 died in a single day in April 2004. The base had been tipped off by local people that the insurgents were planning an attack.
Thailand’s deep south was an independent Islamic sultanate until it was annexed by Buddhist-majority Thailand in the early 20th century. Muslims living there have long complained of discrimination by the central government in Bangkok. Substantial anger towards the government flared up in October 2004 when the Thai army arrested scores of Muslim men, tied them up and piled them on top of each other in trucks, where 78 of them suffocated.
The insurgency has no clear leader and no clear goals, and for the past decade has remained a murky, decentralised uprising with various factions. Both the BRN and another militant group, the Pattani United Liberation Organisation, have called for a separate state. It is unclear whether the other groups will follow the BRN’s lead in Thursday’s agreement, particularly as doubts persist over the desires of the “old guard” separatists versus their younger revolutionary counterparts.
Malaysia – which has been brokering a peace deal between the Philippines government and the rebel Moro National Liberation Front – is currently acting as a facilitator in the potential Thai deal as its northern states border Thailand’s south. The Thai authorities reckon fewer than 1,000 insurgents are based on the Malaysian side of the border but suspect that Malaysian officials may be harbouring separatists within their borders.
A little reported insurgency that has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people in the last decade showed signs of moving towards a peaceful resolution Thursday, as Thai authorities agreed to hold talks with Muslim rebels in the restive south of the country.
The head of Thailand’s National Security Council, Lt. General Paradon Phatthanatabutr, told CNN “a general consensus on the peace dialogue process” had been agreed with Hassan Taib, the leader of separatist group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), following a meeting in Malaysia — which is playing the role of “facilitator” in the discussions, he added.
“It is a good start, at least we can now talk,” said Paradon. “It will certainly open doors to those who don’t always share the extreme ideology to come out and start talking with us. Then we can build understanding with each other.”
Paradon said the talks could begin in Malaysia within two weeks, and that they will show the international community that the Thai government is trying to solve the conflict by peaceful means, respecting due process.
Nine years of drive-by shootings, bomb blasts and beheadings have left thousands dead or maimed in Thailand’s southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun and Songkhla, as insurgents fight for a separate Islamic state for the region’s 1.8 million Muslim ethnic Malays — a demand that Bangkok has so far rejected.
Insurgents have withstood and adapted to the military’s tactics, growing more proficient and daring in the process.
As a result, the Thai government has sent more than 150,000 soldiers to the region — which was once part of an independent Malay Muslim sultanate until it was annexed by Thailand, then known as Siam, in 1909 — to protect it from the estimated 3,000 to 9,000 rebel fighters, according to estimates from human rights groups.
But analysts say the Thai military has struggled to deal with the militants.
“Insurgents have withstood and adapted to the military’s tactics, growing more proficient and daring in the process,” the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization that provides analysis and advocacy on conflicts around the world, said in December.
Successive Thai governments “have opted to muddle through South East Asia’s most violent internal conflict,” the group added in a report on the conflict, citing “bureaucratic turf battles and a bitter national-level political struggle.”
The region has seen a recent upsurge in violence, with increasingly bold attacks by rebels. Last month, 16 insurgents armed with laser-guided rifles and hand grenades were killed during a night assault on a military base in Narathiwat. The military managed to repel the attackers after receiving a tip about the raid, a spokesman for the Thai military told CNN.
The military was not so fortunate days earlier when five soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in neighboring Yala province.
However, Thursday’s agreement in Kuala Lumpur was met with cautious optimism.
“It shows that this government is not only using the military but also engaging with insurgent leaders,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.
But he warned that Thai authorities must also address important grievances on the ground, including accusations of security forces acting with impunity, for talks to be meaningful.
Thailand’s government has agreed to hold talks with a Muslim rebel group aimed at ending almost a decade of unrest in the country’s south. The deal marks a breakthrough in a conflict which has claimed thousands of lives.
Senior Thai security officials signed the first-ever agreement with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) group in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, paving the way for talks to begin.
Signed by Lieutenant-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary general of Thailand’s National Security Council, and Hassan Taib of the BRN, the document launches a “dialogue process” for peace in the Muslim-majority southern border provinces.
“Thank Allah we will do our best to solve the problem. We will tell our people to work together to solve the problems,” Hassan told reporters after the ceremony.
No schedule was given for future meetings, however, and no further details were revealed.
The deal came ahead of an annual meeting later on Thursday between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Thai counterpart, Yingluck Shinawatra. The talks are likely to focus on the possibility of Malaysia hosting further negotiations with the rebel group. Malaysia, whose northern states border Thailand, has acted as a facilitator to bring Thai rebel groups to the table and appears ready to play an ongoing mediation role.
Barisan Revolusi Nasional, which in Malay means “National Revolutionary Front”, is one of several groups blamed for unrest in Thailand, which has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people since an Islamic insurgency broke out almost ten years ago.
Resistance to Bangkok’s Buddhist rule has existed for decades in the predominantly Muslim provinces, but after a brief period of quiet it remerged violently in January 2004.
Earlier this month sixteen insurgents were killed in an attack on a Thai marine base. Rebels responded with a series of counter-attacks including an explosion in Pattani province that killed two security volunteers.
Previous attempts to broker peace have been unsuccessful and as yet no formal talks have ever been held between the Thai government and rebel groups.
Thailand Thursday signed its first known agreement with a rebel group in its Muslim-majority south, pledging to work toward talks to end a deadly nine-year insurgency.
The potentially historic pledge was signed in Kuala Lumpur between Thai officials and a representative of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebel group, hours before Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra arrived in Malaysia.
Yingluck is meeting Prime Minister Najib Razak for annual talks set to include the insurgency and the possibility of Malaysia hosting future Thai negotiations with the militants.
There has been a recent rise in attacks along Thailand’s border with Muslim-majority Malaysia, where the revolt has claimed more than 5,500 lives.
However, experts warned against viewing the agreement as a breakthrough, noting the splintered nature of the Muslim insurgents, lack of concrete demands, and Thailand’s difficulty finding people who have the authority to negotiate.
The “general consensus document to launch a dialogue process for peace” was signed by Lieutenant-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary general of Thailand’s National Security Council, and Hassan Taib of the BRN.
“Thank Allah we will do our best to solve the problem. We will tell our people to work together to solve the problems,” Hassan, identified as the “chief of the BRN liaison office in Malaysia”, told reporters.
No text of the agreement was handed out and officials otherwise offered little comment.
Barisan Revolusi Nasional, which in Malay means “National Revolutionary Front”, is one of several shadowy groups blamed for the unrest in Thailand. It remains to be seen whether other groups will fall in line.
Marc Askew, an expert on southern Thailand at the University of Melbourne, said there was little evidence that “self-appointed” representatives of the various groups exercise any control over hardened militants on the ground.
“The challenge remains the same as always — to connect with the fighting insurgents, not just the talkers,” he told AFP.
Leeds University researcher Duncan McCargo said the deal was a welcome sign that Thailand recognises the need for a political solution.
But he noted various back-channel talks have already been held between Thai authorities and representatives of different rebel groups, with little coherence or progress.
“Under the circumstances, the latest news needs to be viewed with considerable caution,” he said.
Paradorn had acknowledged on Wednesday that Thailand was still establishing the authority of militant leaders to negotiate.
Thailand’s southernmost provinces suffer almost daily gun and bomb attacks by shadowy insurgents seeking greater autonomy, which Thailand rejects.
Many residents of southern Thailand are Muslim ethnic Malays who resent being governed by the Buddhist Thais.
Malaysia already hosts negotiations between the Philippine government and Muslim separatists in the south of that country. These resulted in October in a landmark agreement aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency.
Voice of America:
Thailand for the first time has agreed to hold peace talks with a major Muslim rebel group, marking a potential breakthrough in efforts to end nearly 10 years of violence in the country’s south.
Senior Thai officials and representatives of the National Revolution Front meeting in the Malaysian capital on Thursday signed an agreement to start a dialogue process that will begin in two weeks.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who met with her Malaysian counterpart in Kuala Lumpur later Thursday, said she welcomes the talks.
“The Thai authorities are willing to engage in a process of inclusive dialogue with all relevant stakeholders and groups concerned to address root causes of the problems, in accordance with the state administration and development policy for the southern border provinces and within the framework of the constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand,” she said.
The National Revolution Front, also known as Barisan Revolusi Nasional operates in southern Thailand. Formed in 1963, it split into three factions Aimed to establish a pan-Malay republic Ideology described as Islamic socialist
The Malaysia-based National Revolution Front is just one of several armed insurgent groups fighting for greater autonomy in Thailand’s mainly Muslim south. It is yet to be seen whether the other groups would agree to the talks.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Thursday’s agreement is only the start of the peace process.
“Let us hope that all parties will respect the process and not do anything untoward in the southern provinces that would undermine and jeopardize the peace process,” he said.
The area has been wracked by a bloody insurgency that escalated in 2004 and has taken the lives of around 5,000 people – mostly civilians from both ethnic Thai Buddhist and Malay Muslim communities.
Thai authorities declared a state of emergency in 2005, granting the military wide powers of arrest and detention. But the emergency law has also triggered allegations of rights abuses by security forces.
Many in the south complain of discrimination by the central government. Calls by moderate Islamic groups and human rights organizations for a decentralization of power have been dismissed by security officials, who say such moves threaten national unity.
- Thailand agrees to talks with southern Muslim rebels (news.yahoo.com)
- Thai government, Muslim rebels agree to talk (edition.cnn.com)
- UPDATE2: Thai gov’t, Muslim rebel group agree to start peace talks (english.kyodonews.jp)
- Thailand and Muslim separatists agree to peace talks (guardian.co.uk)
- Pattani Muslims, Thailand agree to talks (worldbulletin.net)
- Thai government, Muslim rebels agree to hold first peace talks – CNN International (edition.cnn.com)
- Thais sign historic peace deal with insurgents (smh.com.au)
- Thailand agrees to talks with southern Muslim rebels (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Thailand agrees to talks with southern Muslim rebels (Reuters) (newsdaily.com)