World Bulletin / News Desk
“The peace dialogue has foundered,” Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group (ICG), which has closely followed the situation in the kingdom’s insurgency-plagued far south over the past 12 years, says in a report titled Southern Thailand’s Peace Dialogue: No Traction.
“The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which seized power in the 2014 coup, professes to support dialogue to end the insurgency but avoids commitment,” it says, referring to the ruling junta by its official name.
On the insurgent side, the main active group -- the National Revolutionary Front (BRN) -- has “rejected the process”, and the degree of control an main umbrella group involved in the talks -- Mara Patani -- has over rebels active on the ground is “unknown”, according the report.
After a May 2014 coup brought the current junta to power, the military regime restarted a peace dialogue initially launched in 2013 by the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra that was overthrown in the putsch.
Since 2015, a series of meetings have taken place in Kuala Lumpur between a Thai military delegation and Mara Patani -- which claims to represent the Malay-Muslim insurgents -- with the Malaysian government acting as a facilitator.
But according to the report, the military regime has primarily regarded the dialogue as a public relations exercise “to show locals and the international community that it does the right thing”.
The report details the military delegation’s refusal last April to sign the “Terms of Reference” for negotiations with Mara Patani on the grounds that junta chief-cum-prime minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha “had not approved it”.
It describes the military as harboring “an abiding fear it will be internationalized, leading to foreign intervention and, eventually, partition”.
“The second [imperative for the military] is that the conflict must be resolved without political reform or devolution of power, which many officials regard as a potential precursor to national fragmentation,” it adds.
The ICG also notes that the refusal of the BRN to participate in the talks will prevent the dialogue from delivering “a lasting solution”.
“BRN should subordinate military operations to pursuit of viable political ends and observe its obligations under IHL [International Humanitarian Law], including an end to targeting civilians,” it underlines.
The level of violence in Thailand’s far south has markedly risen since a series of bombings hit tourist areas last month in the upper south, where most of the population is Buddhist.
Fatal incidents this month include the detonation of a bomb placed on railway tracks and a bomb hidden in a motorcycle that destroyed a hotel lobby in Pattani province, as well as an explosion in front of a school that killed a four-year-old school girl and her father in neighboring Narathiwat.
Faced with an extending conflict, the junta should “reconsider its approach of seeking militant capitulation rather than a comprehensive political solution”, concludes the ICG report, while recognizing that such a resolution “is unlikely to materialize under the current government”.
The southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between Malay Muslims living in the southern region and the Thai central state where Buddhism is considered the de-facto national religion.
Armed insurgents groups were formed in the 1960s after the then-military dictatorship tried to interfere in Islamic schools, but the insurgency faded in the 1990s.
In 2004, a rejuvenated armed movement -- composed of numerous local cells of fighters loosely grouped around an organization called the National Revolutionary Front or BRN -- emerged.
The confrontation is one of the deadliest low-intensity conflicts on the planet, with more than 7,000 people killed and over 11,000 injured since 2004.