No progress in peace talks on Thai Muslim south: rebels

By CS Thana

BANGKOK (AA) – Peace talks between Thailand’s military government and an umbrella group of insurgents operating in the country’s Muslim south have failed after the removal of a key government negotiator, according to local media Friday.

The Bangkok Post cited a Mara Patani spokesperson as saying that the latest 75-minute talks in Kuala Lumpur — facilitated by Malaysia — ended with the government delegation refusing to endorse previously agreed upon “terms of reference” (TOR).

“We are, however, unsure if party A [the Thai team] wants to review the TOR, draft a new one or suspend the process altogether,” Abu Hafez Al-Hakin said. “We were informed the Thai prime minister has not approved it.”

The terms of reference had been co-drafted by both sides between October and March, but fell through after Lt. Gen. Nakrob Bunbuathong — who previously led the peace talks — was removed last week.

Local media reported at the time that a personal rift between the general and the current army chief’s younger brother could be to blame, while an unnamed source told the Post that Bunbuathong was perceived as too close to Mara Patani.

Junta leader-cum-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan insisted after Bunbuathong’s removal that the reshuffle would not affect the peace talks.

“Why does the prime minister have to be changed by means of election every four years? Why doesn’t he remain in the position for a lifetime?” Chan-ocha had said.

Mara Patani’s Al-Hakin, however, told the Post Thursday that “[Bunbuathong’s] absence was felt and has affected the process”.

Exactly how much control Mara Patani has on the ground remains to be seen. Some analysts have suggested that it is negligible.

The southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between the Malay Muslims living in the southern region and the Thai central state where Buddhism is considered the de-facto national religion.

Armed insurgent groups were formed in the 1960s after the then-military dictatorship tried to interfere in Islamic schools, but the insurgency faded in the 1990s.

It surged again in 2004 and rapidly escalated as the government of then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra severely repressed the rebels, leading to numerous human rights abuses.

More than 6500 people — Buddhists and Muslims — have been killed and over 11,000 injured since 2004.

After a marked decrease in violence in 2015, the number of incidents since the beginning of 2016 has increased, with several large-scale operations by suspected insurgents.