“New window of opportunity” for peace process in southern Thailand: Panitan
Political changes in Malaysia and eagerness demonstrated by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who will visit Thailand next week, to help solve the long-running conflicts in southern Thailand coupled with the upcoming general elections in Thailand provide a “new window of opportunity” for peace in the trouble-plagued region, Panitan Wattanayagorn, an advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan for security affairs, said Thursday night.
Panitan said in an interview with ThaiPBS World that signals from various militant groups in the three southernmost provinces have also been encouraging.
The visit by Prime Minister Mahathir to Bangkok on October 24-25 will provide an important opportunity for Thailand and Malaysia to demonstrate their commitment in addressing the violence that has claimed thousands of lives in the three provinces over the past several years, he said.
Mahathir will be accompanied on his visit by Abdul Rahim Noor, a former inspector general of Malaysian police who was recently appointed a new facilitator for the Malaysia-brokered peace talks between the Thai Government and the Mara Patani, an umbrella group of various insurgent factions. Rahim Noor succeeds Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim who served as facilitator during the government of former prime minister Najib Razak.
Panitan described Rahim Noor as an “old hand” with experience dealing with issues on Thai-Malaysian border dating back to the days of the Communist Party of Malaya. The appointment of Rahim Noor as the new facilitator coincides with a change in the team of Thai officials charged with carrying out the peace talks.
Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has confirmed that Gen Udomchai Thammasaroraj, former commander of the 4th Army Region, will be appointed new leader of the Thai peace talks team, replacing Gen Aksara Kerdphol.
Panitan said the stalled peace process in southern Thailand has now reached a critical stage. “The political changes in Malaysia and Prime Minister Mahathir’s expressed desire to help Thailand solve the conflicts should provide a new window of opportunity for the peace process,” he said, adding that the new political context in Thailand after the general elections early next year should also provide new impetus to the peace dialogue.
The challenge for the peace talks is how to bring on board other insurgent factions that so far have not been included in the previous series of dialogue, he said.
In his first visit to Thailand after taking office following a dramatic election victory in May, Mahathir is expected to make discussion of Thai-Malaysian cooperation in addressing the insurgency problem a highlight of his talks with Prime Minister Prayut.