Leader of largest Deep South insurgent group dies

Officials have confirmed the death of a key leader of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the largest armed insurgent group operating in Thailand’s restive Deep South. Authorities claim the death will not disturb ongoing peace talks between the government and rebel groups.

On 15 January 2017, Gen Aksara Kerdphol, who leads the government’s committee on border province peace talks, confirmed the passing of Sapaeing Baso, a leader of BRN.

Sapaeing‘s burial took place on 10 January 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where he been residing for three years. The insurgent leader died of a lung infection at the age of 81.

State security forces are currently investigating whether Sapaeing’s death will disrupt ongoing peace talks between the Thai government and MARA Patani, an umbrella group representing various rebel groups and factions in the Deep South. The BRN is but one of several factions constituting MARA Patani.

According to Aksara, Sapaeing’s passing will not impede the Thai government’s contact with MARA Patani, but may hamper BRN’s own participation in the discussions. This is because Sapaeing’s guidance as BRN’s spiritual leader increased the organisation’s efficiency.

Rakchat Suwan, the deputy of the Civil Society Council of the Southernmost Thailand, agrees Sapaeing’s passing will not disrupt the peace talks because both sides are serious about advancing negotiations. Though someone new will emerge to lead BRN, all will end at the negotiating table.

According to a biography compiled by the Civil Society Council, Sapaeing was born in Pattani province, and was educated in the Middle East. After working as the principal of a religious school in the province of Yala, he rose to key leadership positions within BRN.

11 of his key followers graduated from the school at which Sapaeing taught in Yala. For some time they were implicated in effectively every incident of unrest in the Southern border regions, until they were forced to flee to Malaysia.

Sapaeing had previously suffered at length from heart disease and diabetes.

Peace talks facilitated by Malaysia between the Thai government and MARA Patani remain stalled by debate over the terms of reference, or preconditions, to the negotiations themselves.