Southern Thailand: Rebels Commit to Peace Talks Despite BRN Rift

Hata Wahari

2015-10-14
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151014-BD-kasturi-1000 Col. Kasturi Mahkota of the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) takes part with other southern Thai rebel leaders at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 27, 2015.
BenarNews

An apparent rift within one of southern Thailand’s main rebel groups won’t stop an umbrella body of different insurgent organizations from pursuing peace talks with the government, a senior rebel leader told BenarNews on Wednesday.

“MARA Patani will continue with the negotiations and MARA Patani will make sure that the talks become official in the near future,” Col. Kasturi Mahkota, a leader of the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) rebel group, said in answering questions sent by email.

He was referring to the umbrella group that has met informally with Thai officials in Malaysia several times this year in an effort to restart formal peace talks for the first time since 2013, and which would aim to end a long-running separatist conflict in Thailand’s Deep South.

Kasturi is a spokesman for MARA Patani.

The talks will go ahead, he said, despite criticism of the current peace process from a faction of Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (BRN). The rebel group is represented on MARA Patani by three of its senior leaders: Awang Jabat, Sukree Haree and Ahmat Chuwol.

None of the three could be reached for comment Wednesday.

“Personally, what happened within BRN – those who are for and against the peace-talk process – is normal,” Kasturi told BenarNews. “Inshallah [God willing], it will be resolved in the near future and it will not affect any ongoing of peace talks.”

MARA Patani’s seven representatives and their respective organizations “have a high commitment” to the current peace efforts, he said.

The umbrella group was formed in May so various groups could negotiate in a united front with the government to settle the conflict in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region. The war and associated violence have killed more than 6,000 people since 2004.

MARA Patani, which introduced itself to the public in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 27, brings together representatives of the BRN, Gerakan Mujahideen Islami Patani (GMIP) and Barisan Islam Pembebasan Patani (BIPP) rebel groups, as well as two factions of PULO. A third PULO faction, PULO P4, withdrew from the umbrella body after participating in its earlier secret negotiations with Thai officials.

‘On the table’

The Thai government, however, has not notified MARA Patani about the possibility of formal peace talks resuming next month, Kasturi said.

On Monday, Lt. Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong, secretary of the Thai junta’s negotiation team, told BenarNews that peace talks would go on and he expected “an official round of talks by mid-November.”

“Prior to this we may have small rounds of talks. Everything is on the table,” he said.

Both Kasturi and Nakrob were commenting on skepticism about the process voiced earlier this week by a BRN faction.

Seeking a ‘dignified peace’

On Oct. 12, a four-page statement issued on BRN letterhead by BRN’s “information department” appeared to voice disagreement with the new peace process, but without naming MARA Patani.

In its statement, the faction demanded that the peace process involve international mediators and that Thailand recognize the sovereignty of the “Patani.”

This last demand was made two years ago by Hassan Bin Toyb and Adbul Karim Khalib, BRN leaders who were part of the rebel delegation during the last round of peace talks. Those stalled after their demand was conveyed in a YouTube video in December 2013. The two men are not with MARA Patani.

“BRN is prepared to achieve peace through peaceful means, however such a peace process must be dignified and sincere in its pursuit of peace,” the faction said.

“Not a peace process used as a form of political subterfuge in order to deceive and undermine the strategy of the Patani-Malay people’s advancement…,” it added.

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