No resolution yet in Deep South peace talks

The coalition of insurgent groups in the restive Deep South of Thailand has rebutted reports that they have reached an agreement with the Thai state on ‘safety zones’.

On Sunday, 22 November 2014, MARA Patani, the umbrella organization of separatist movements in Thailand’s Deep South, issued a statement to make clear that the group has not concluded any agreement with the Thai state during the latest round of negotiations on 11-12 November 2015.

Isara and Komchadluek news agencies reported on 19 and 22 November respectively that MARA Patani and the Thai government have agreed to established Bacho and Cho-airong Districts as ‘safety zones’.

MARA Patani disclaimed the reports of the two news outlets.

“MARA Patani wishes to stress that the reports are untrue and baseless and that the matter was never discussed at all on or off the dialogue table during those two days,” stated MARA Patani in the statement written in English.

The group added in the statement that the peace negotiations with the Thai state are currently still in the ‘confidence building’ stage and informal.

The statement further stated “we opine that it was deliberately scheme by certain parties with hidden agenda to jeopardise the newly resumed peace dialogue process.”

The ongoing peace talks between MARA Patani and the Thai state facilitated by the Malaysian government have been ongoing since June 2015.

In late August, the group comprising Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), Barisan Islam Pembehbasan Patani (BIPP), and Gerakan Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP) officially held a press briefing about the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the first time.

MARA representatives present at the official press conference on 27 August 2015 in Kuala Lumpur

MARA Patani emphasized that the peace process must be on the national agenda, criticizing the junta for its vagueness about the peace process.

On 11 October 2015, the Nikkei Asian Review (NAR) published an exclusive interview with four representatives from the Information Department of the BRN, the most active insurgent faction in the three restive Southern border provinces.

The four told the news agency that the BRN is ‘categorically’ not involved in the current peace talks and viewed them as a ‘negative phenomenon’.

One of the four, who referred to himself as ‘Yusef’, told NRA that there are many ‘unsettling’ aspects of the peace talks given that they bear no relation to the peace talks in 2013 between the BRN and the civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

Established in 1960, the BRN is believed to command most on-the-ground fighters responsible for most of the violence in the Deep South since 2004.  It says that it does not oppose a peace process, but the process must be under ‘international standards and norms’.

Yusef told Anthony Davis from the NAR that the BRN welcomes Malaysia as a facilitator in the peace dialogue, but as it deeply distrusts the Thai state, the international community must also be involved in the peace talks.

Negotiations between the Thai state and armed insurgency movement have been proceeding for more than a decade, although in secret.

Analysts say that the Thai state has never been sincere or serious about negotiations, only viewing them as opportunities to identify core members of the insurgent groups. The first open negotiations happened during Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration in 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

The Malaysian government acted as a facilitator. However, these negotiations were limited and ended completely after the Yingluck administration was overthrown. The military coup in May 2014 that installed a junta led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has started peace talks again, with the first session in early June 2015.