11 July 2024

The appointment of a new Malaysian facilitator for the peace process in southern Thailand last week came amid what a senior Thai security official described as a need to review priorities in the peace roadmap.

He admitted that a series of violent incidents in the region in the past several weeks have shaken people’s confidence in the process talks.

On June 30, a car bomb went off in front of a police flat in Yala, killing a school teacher and injuring over 20 others.

“The top priority should be about ending or mitigating the violence,” said the official, who is close to the peace talks between representatives of the Thai government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the main insurgent group.

The Malaysian government last Friday announced Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s appointment of Mohd Rabin Basir, a former National Security Council’s director-general, as a new peace talks facilitator.  He replaces former military chief Zulkifli Zainal Abidin after just 18 months in the role.

An informed security source said Zulkifli was openly unhappy with a separate track of peace talks facilitated by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a non-profit Geneva-based organization unofficially involved in efforts to end violence in southern Thailand.

However, both the BRN and parts of the Thai peace talks team believe that it has helped move the peace dialogue forward. They credited the informal dialogue for having contributed to the peace roadmap, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan toward Peace, which has served as the basis for the ongoing peace talks.

The roadmap includes cessation of violence, public consultations and political solutions.

“Zulkifli wanted the peace talks he facilitated to be the only forum for the peace process.  His stand frustrated both the BRN and the centre which subsequently brought the issue to Prime Minister Anwar’s attention,” said the source who has been closely monitoring the peace process.

Another senior Thai security official told Thai PBS World that Zulkifli strictly confined the peace process to the formal talks between representatives of the Thai government and BRN.

“He was rather inflexible and would reject anything from outside the formal forum,” he said, noting that Zulkifli was also slow with follow-up on issues that should have been addressed.  

However, he praised Zulkifli for his “determination and sincere attempts” in getting both sides to reach a peace agreement.  In an interview with Thai PBS World early this year, Zulkifli said he believed that there was a prospect for peace in the southern region.

“There is light at end of the tunnel,” he said.

A statement issued by the Anwar government stated that it was confident with the new facilitator’s caliber “to achieve a positive and significant impact” on the peace process.

“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.

The next round of technical meeting between representatives of the Thai government and BRN is scheduled for next month.

However, Thai security sources have played down earlier hope that a peace agreement can be signed by the two sides by year’s end.

By Thepchai Yong
Photo : Mohd Rabin Basir, a former director general of Malaysia’s National Security Council, has been appointed a new facilitator for peace talks to end violence in southern Thailand. (Photo courtesy of Malaysia’s National Security Council)