Malaysia appoints former national security chief to broker Thai peace talks

Govt hopes Mohd Rabin Basir will play “a more effective role” in accelerating negotiations.
BenarNews staff
2024.07.05
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia appoints former national security chief to broker Thai peace talks Mohd Rabin Basir, director general of National Security Council, speaks to reporters at the council’s headquarters in Putrajaya, Nov. 26, 2020.
Courtesy of National Security Council X account

UPDATED at 2:20 p.m. ET on 2024-07-05

The Malaysian government on Friday announced a new facilitator for peace talks between the Thai government and separatist rebels in Thailand’s southernmost provinces, replacing former military chief Zulkifli Zainal Abidin after just 18 months in the role.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim appointed Mohd Rabin Basir, a former National Security Council director-general, after Zulkifli completed his service on June 30, a council news release said.

“The government is very confident with YBhg. Datuk Haji Mohd Rabin’s caliber to carry on with the mission and to achieve a positive and significant impact” on the peace process, it said.

“It is also hoped that … Mohd Rabin bin Basir will be able to play a more effective and constructive role in accelerating the efforts towards creating a peaceful environment in the southern border provinces of Thailand,” the statement said.

On June 30, a car bomb in Yala killed a school teacher and injured 21 others. In March, a wave of coordinated bombings and arson attacks blamed on insurgents targeted more than 40 properties across four provinces and killed a migrant worker.

Anchana Heemmina, president of civil society organization Duay Jai (With Heart) and a member of the Thai House of Representatives Special Committee on Southern Border Peace, said she wants Mohd Rabin to describe his role clearly. She also wants him to treat both negotiating teams equally and connect with people in the Deep South.

“He should act as a sincere communicator. Up to now, there has been no communication, they only say there is progress, but without details, which doesn’t allow people to see hope,” she told BenarNews.

 “What does he see as progress? What are the actual steps of progress that align with the people’s expectations?”

05-TH-MY-peace2.jpg
Thai Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong (in red shirt) visits the site of car-bombing in front of a police residence building in southern Thailand’s Yala province, June 30, 2024. [Handout/Bannang Sata Police Station]

Heemmina said Mohd Rabin should understand his role as a diplomat while overseeing the negotiations because he has been one already. He served at the Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh from 1991 to 1993.

“Being a diplomat should help make the negotiations more satisfactory, but there must be indicators of progress to enhance the negotiations effectively, creating an atmosphere that leads more toward success,” she told BenarNews. 

Outgoing facilitator

Ex-armed forces chief Zulkifli, who was appointed facilitator on  Jan. 1, 2023, oversaw negotiations in February between the Thai government and the main southern insurgent group, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), that led to no major breakthrough.

Nabiela Ismail, a research and advocacy analyst in foreign affairs at Bait Al Amanah (House of Trust) in Malaysia, said Zulkifli was able to bring both sides to the negotiating table and to appear together before journalists.

“Zulkifli was also seen as a trusted partner and a listener between conflicting parties,” she told BenarNews.

In addition, Zulkifli was able to set a “roadmap” for peace development and oversee ceasefire agreements during his term. Still, a new mediator could take a new approach to the process, she said.

“The lack of progress in the negotiations coupled with political changes and instability within the Thai government has posed challenges for the negotiation process to continue effectively. Despite the peacemaking efforts made by Gen. Zulkifli, the ongoing violence has underscored the persistent instability in the region,” Nabiela said.

“Due to this reason, Malaysia is approaching this matter differently by appointing someone with governmental experience, particularly from the security, diplomatic, law enforcement, and intelligence background.”

Zulkifli replaced Abdul Rahim Noor, a former national police chief who was appointed in 2018 before BRN took the lead role in negotiating for the insurgents.

History of violence

MARA Patani, an umbrella panel, had represented Deep South rebel organizations including the BRN during negotiations with the Thai government for several years. In 2020, the government began negotiating directly with BRN.

Thailand’s Deep South region encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala provinces, and four districts of Songkhla province. The region has seen more than 22,200 violent incidents in the border region since the insurgency reignited 20 years ago, resulting in more than 7,540 deaths and 14,000 injuries, according to Deep South Watch, a local think-tank.

Muzliza Mustafa and Iman Muttaqin Yusof in Kuala Lumpur, and Mariyam Ahmad in Pattani, Thailand, contributed to this report.

This story has been updated to include comments from Thai lawmaker Anchana Heemmina and from Malaysian analyst Nabiela Ismail. 

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