NSC still keen to pursue BRN talks

Thai authorities are still optimistic about peace talks with Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), although their one-year effort to establish peace with the separatist movement in the South seems futile.

National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanatabut reaffirmed his strong support for the peace dialogue despite delays since late last year due to the prolonged protest against the caretaker Yingluck Shinawatra government.

Thai authorities still pursue the talks, which began after the NSC signed a dialogue deal with the BRN in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 28 last year, he said.

The officials are preparing to welcome Datuk Seri Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim, the Malaysian facilitator of the talks, who is scheduled to visit Thailand tomorrow.

Lt Gen Paradorn said he will meet with Mr Hashim during his stay.

“We want Malaysia to act as a coordinator,” Lt Gen Paradorn said.

“We are always ready to talk. But at this moment we need to solve our internal political problems, too.''

Mr Hashim, a former director of Malaysia’s External Intelligence Organisation, plays a key role in organising the talks.

The insurgency has raged since 2004 and become violent mainly in Muslim-majority provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

Militants are believed to shelter in hideouts spots located in Malaysia’s Kelantan state after launching subversive activities in the southernmost provinces.

Thai authorities have responded to the insurgency by carrying out both development projects to increase the quality of life for people in these provinces and conducting military operations.

“But it does not mean when we engage in talks, soldiers will stop fighting,” army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said.

“We have to continue our duty until peace is restored,’’ he said.

The government recently reinforced its security presence in the South by increasing personnel numbers from 60,000 to 72,000. Most of them are soldiers, Lt Gen Paradorn said.

The reinforcement was ordered after the violence in the far South shows no sign of abating after the peace talks.

Critics question whether Hassan Taib, a key BRN representative in the talks, can form a plan to slow down or stop insurgent attacks. Some even doubt whether Mr Taib is a real representative of the BRN who can work with the group’s armed hardliners.

Mr Taib reportedly said militants active in the insurgency-torn provinces are not BRN members. There are however, other militant groups in the far South.

“The Thai government’s recognition of the BRN’s role in the talks may have dissatisfied other militant groups which stirred up violence to tell the government is not talking with them,’’ said an army officer.

The government is aware of this issue and, in the second half of last year, it reportedly sent representatives to talk with other militant groups in hopes of them joining the peace negotiations.

“We now have more groups, namely Pulo [Patani United Liberation Organisation] and BIPP [Barisan Islam Pembebasan Patani], in the talks,” Lt Gen Paradon said.

Yet the government needs to find out whether militant groups it has approached are new groups breaking from the old ones, said Wan Kadir Jehman, a former head of the Bersatu separatist group.

“They [the new groups] don’t listen to the elderly” in the movement, he said.

“This new generation has their own ideal, hatred and anger. They don’t depend on other existing separatist groups. They are trying to form groups of their own”.

While the participation of insurgent groups in the peace talks is still a burning issue, the current political turmoil deals another blow to the process which has made little progress.

The uncertain future of the caretaker Yingluck government can hinder progress in the talks.

Many believe the country needs a new government to continue the dialogue, said Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, an independent political analyst.

“It will be difficult to hold formal talks while Thailand still does not have a new government since there is no guarantee that the caretaker administration can deliver what it promises.''

The government and the BRN also need to hold internal talks to settle differences that can affect the one-year-old peace dialogue, Mr Rungrawee added.

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