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Jakarta Post

Truce in south Thailand turns out to be short-lived

  • Nirmal Ghosh

    The Jakarta Post

Bangkok   /   Mon, August 5, 2013   /  08:19 am

The successful raid on a Malay-Muslim militant camp in the remote jungles of Thailand's troubled Muslim-majority south was a small victory for its embattled security forces.

The only problem was that it took place on July 21 and 22, when a ceasefire was supposed to be in operation in the region.

The Thai authorities and the insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional Patani Melayu (BRN) had agreed on July 12, at negotiations facilitated by Malaysia, to refrain from "any aggressive actions" during the month of Ramadan from July 10 to Aug 8.

The agreement covered the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat - where the raid took place - Pattani, and five districts of Songkhla.

General Paradon Pattanatabut, the head of Thailand's National Security Council (NSC) which is leading peace talks that began in February with the BRN and had agreed to the ceasefire, was caught "clueless", said a source. He had not known the operation was being carried out.

The Thai authorities - while taking part in the talks, which are still at a confidence-building stage - are unsure whether the BRN leaders based in Malaysia have any real command over young fighters in the Thai provinces.

The ceasefire was in part to test this.

But the raid last month suggests that the Thai state's control over the army on the ground is also an issue.

The army has said militants at the camp raided by a 36-man task force had warrants of arrest against them. But the BRN complained to the Malaysian facilitators that the Thai authorities had broken their word on the ceasefire.

Retaliatory killings by Malay-Muslim militants began, with gruesome murders including those of a Buddhist couple. They reached a peak from Wednesday to Friday last week, with several attacks on security forces and coordinated arson attacks.

The unravelling of the ceasefire was complete.

Thailand's NSC wants to continue talking, although it will also ask for an explanation from the BRN.

However, the army, which under special laws is effectively in charge of security issues in the south, is sceptical about the talks.

The army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has dismissed the BRN as not having the clout to hold talks and being interested only in escalating the conflict to gain international recognition.

"The top brass don't really support this process," said Jason Johnson, an independent researcher based in Pattani.

One factor is that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had helped kick the talks to life, he said.

These were very low-key under the previous Democrat Party regime. Prejudice against the controversial Thaksin is colouring the view of the talks in some quarters.

The BRN, itself sceptical, was prodded to the table by the Malaysian authorities, at the prompting of Thaksin and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, he added.

Analysts agree that continuing to talk is the only option.

But Chulalongkorn University political science professor Panitan Wattanayagorn said the agreement to refrain from hostilities had been premature.

"Both sides rushed into it, which resulted in confusion and breaking down of measures," he said.

"You cannot have an agreement like this without proper mechanisms to implement and observe," he added.

There was also a disconnect between the political and security dimensions of the talks. "We don't even know if the military agreed to refrain from hostilities," he said.


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