Interview: Malaysia ‘Glue’ to Solving Thailand’s Southern Conflict, Official Says

By Pimuk Rakkanam

2015-06-26
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150626-TH-nakrob-620.jpg Maj. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong speaks to BenarNews at his office in Bangkok, June 26, 2015.
BenarNews

Thai Army Maj. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong is closely involved in delicate back-channel efforts by the Thai government to reopen peace talks with southern rebels.

Thai officials have had difficulty persuading various insurgent factions from Thailand’s Deep South region to return to the negotiating table, he told BenarNews earlier this month.

Since April, Thai officials have held at least two secret pre-talk meetings in Kuala Lumpur with representatives of rebel groups. But there was a need “to build triangular trust” among Thailand, Malaysia and the different rebel groups, Nakrob said on June 19.

The predominantly Muslim Deep South – made up of the southern border provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, as well as several districts in Songkhla province – has been in the throes of a separatist conflict that has claimed at least 6,000 lives since 2004.

Should the talks resume any time soon, they would be the first under Thailand’s junta – which seized power in May 2014 – and the first since that last round ended in December 2013.

On Friday, Maj. Gen. Nakrob sat down for an interview with BenarNews at his office in Bangkok. He spoke about the current efforts underway to reopen the talks, Malaysia’s role as a peace broker, as well as the crucial fact that key insurgent leaders live there.

Here are highlights from the interview:

BenarNews: Which are the separatist groups currently carrying out violence in the Deep South? Is it correct that they will talk with the government under an umbrella group, MARA Patani?

Nakrob: I would like to tell you that the problems in the south have long existed and there are several organizations. They are not legitimate organizations, they have mere organizational names.

At present there are several groups. There are almost ten of them, being active or inactive. Perhaps you know that among the ISOC [Internal Security Operations Command] circle, and the peace talks’ circle, as per the prime minister’s policy we’ve tried to find those active ones from the most active to the least. And there are six of them.

BenarNews: What progress has the team made and when will the next round begin?

Nakrob: …Our prime minister [Prayuth Chan-o-Cha] met with his Malaysian counterpart [Najib Razak] in January. After that he kicked-off [pre-talk negotiations], agreed to have Malaysia as a facilitator and assigned Gen. Aksara [Kerdpol] to lead the Thai team for talks.

Since then, we have continually followed up. At the early stage, there have been meetings, discussions and getting to know each other …. We are now at the stage of building trust.

BenarNews: After the latest meeting do you feel that each side is open to building trust?

Nakrob: It’s natural that at the first meetings, each side kept their feelings to themselves. We must dine and talk and break the ice. And that will improve the relationship at the next step. At the beginning, all were conservative.

But … [Malaysia] is the facilitator that glues us together, which is very effective. We trust Malaysia and so do the dissidents living there. When we met the dissidents, Malaysia brought us together perfectly.

BenarNews: There are some dissidents who claim that the kingpins or big fish are in Thailand. So why did you reach out to those in Malaysia? What’s your take on that?

Nakrob: … One reason we cannot solve this problem with ease, or to make it easy, is that everyone must admit that most dissidents are residing in Malaysia. They can cross the borders. Most of them with whatever organizational names are not living in Thailand but in Malaysia ….

It is hard to solve the problem because of support from within Malaysia. The ability to cross the border, to go into hiding, these make it hard for us to solve the problem.

But when we analyzed it and found out that if we reached out across the border, we could solve it. We, security officers, think that we need to reach out to them there.

For those who are in Thailand, we can open talks at any time within our country, if they claim they are genuine dissidents and are ready to talk. It is hard for us if they don’t speak up.

The major leaders are all in Malaysia. So if we can talk with Malaysia and the dissidents who live there, and if we can curb all supports [for them], all our internal issues will be easy to control. This is our working principle ….

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