6 June 2024

The Srettha government has been urged to make the peace dialogue in the trouble-plagued southern Thailand more inclusive and to involve other stake-holders besides the armed groups believed to be responsible for the years-long violence in the region, according to security sources.

It has also been recommended to streamline the work of the various government agencies in charge of dealing with the conflicts in that part of the country.

“There is certainly a need for unity among these agencies,” a senior security official told Thai PBS World.  He mentioned specifically the Interior Ministry, the Internal Security Operation Command and the Fourth Army Region, which are the main agencies tasked with resolving unrests in the three southern provinces of Yala, Pattana and Narathiwat.

The Srettha government has yet to officially spell out its policy toward the region.  However, some of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s close aides are known to have had consultations with senior members of security agencies on the current situation in the region.

The sources said the Srettha government is expected to appoint a new negotiation team to take part in the peace dialogue with representatives of the armed group in which a former Malaysian army general serves as the facilitator.    The peace dialogue has been going on and off since the Yingluck government, starting in 2013.

They said the dialogue so far has involved only representatives of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the major armed separatist group operating in the region.  There was an agreement during the last dialogue session in March in Kuala Lumpur this year to involve other armed groups.

However, the sources said future dialogue should be more inclusive and involve representatives of local communities and other stake-holders in the three provinces.

“Participation in the dialogue should not be limited to the armed groups but should include local community and religious leaders, students and other stake-holders,” said one of the sources.

He noted that the dialogue had largely been confined to the armed group because the government regarded reducing the level of violence as its top priority.

In an interview with Thai PBS World in March, Gen Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, the Malaysian facilitator in the peace dialogue, said he agreed with the idea of its enlargement to include other armed groups and stake-holders.

Malaysian facilitator Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, flanked by Thai chief negotiator Gen Wallop Raksanoh (left) and BRN representative Anas, during the press conference in Kuala Lumpur in February 2023.

The source noted that though Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has shown commitment in helping the Thai government resolve the conflicts in southern Thailand, there are internal factors in Malaysia that may limit what he can do.  Malaysian states bordering southern Thailand which are often used as a sanctuary by Muslim separatist groups are largely under the influence of the Malaysian opposition parties.

By Thepchai Yong