By Pimuk Rakkanam and Mariyam Ahmad
A new phase of direct peace talks with the most powerful southern rebel group will take time and require support from “all sectors,” Thai officials said Wednesday after government delegates met with BRN insurgents in Kuala Lumpur over two days.
Gen. Wanlop Rugsanaoh, the chief Thai peace negotiator, met with a panel from Barisan Revolusi Nasional (National Revolutionary Front, or BRN) led by Anas Abdulrahman (also known as Hipni Mareh), during a second round of Malaysia-brokered talks on Monday and Tuesday, the Thai Secretariat for the Peace Dialogue in the Deep South said.
“The overall atmosphere of the meeting was constructive,” and both sides discussed technical and administrative issues, the Thai secretariat announced in a statement, noting that they also began delving into “substantive issues including the reduction of violence in order to create a conducive environment for the process.”
The substantive part of the direct talks with BRN “will require time, continuity and supports from all sectors involved, and the two sides will meet to discuss further details of all the issues in due course,” the statement said.
It did not reveal much more beyond saying that the Thai peace delegation was committed to pursuing “utmost efforts to solve the problem in the Southern Border Provinces.”
Abdul Rahim Noor, the Malaysian facilitator of the peace process in Thailand’s southern border region confirmed that the latest round of talks took place in Malaysia’s capital on March 2 and 3.
“Meetings will continue in the future until peace [is] achieved,” he told BenarNews.
On Monday, Abdul Rahim told BenarNews he would brief Malaysia’s new prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, about the southern Thai peace talks within a week or two. Muhyiddin was sworn into office by Malaysia’s king on Sunday after a week of political turmoil, which saw the government of the Pakatan Harapan bloc collapse.
The military wing of BRN, the largest of armed separatist groups in the Deep South, until early this year had stayed out of Malaysia-brokered negotiations held between Thailand and MARA Patani, an umbrella group representing rebel factions in peace talks launched in 2015. However, MARA’s BRN panelists were not seen as commanding influence over the shadowy rebel group’s combatants in the field, according to analysts.
On Jan. 21, Gen. Wanlop and Anas told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur that Thailand and BRN had opened direct talks aimed at settling the long-running conflict, which has claimed more than 7,000 lives in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South since 2004.
The first round of the phase of talks followed back-channel talks between representatives of both sides that were organized in Berlin in late 2019 by an international organization, an official with Malaysia’s National Security Council told BenarNews.
Since the start of this year, 24 civilians and Thai security personnel have been killed and 28 others injured in insurgency-related violence in the region that borders Malaysia, according to statistics compiled by the regional police bureau. Seven fighters have been killed on the rebel side.
In Yala, one of the provinces of the Deep South, the head of a local NGO reacted to the news about the latest meeting between the BRN and the delegation from Bangkok.
“As I view this round of peace talks, I see some hope to making peace in the Deep South, but strong law enforcement is needed,” Rukchart Suwan, president of the Buddhist Network for Peace, told BenarNews.
“Another thing that people in the area have set hopes for in peace talks is how to really make the region peaceful [in a way] that will not create more violence to harm people. If [these talks] really work, it will be a good thing,” he said.
BenarNews staff in Kuala Lumpur and Nani Yusof in Washington contributed to this report.
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