For almost a year, the insurgency in the Deep South of Thailand showed no signs of respite or truce. In March, Narathiwat Province was rocked by two bombs that went off, another bomb that exploded within the Pattani commercial center, and a shooting also in Pattani had caused injury to five people. These incidents happened even as the Thai military cornered and killed 16 insurgents during a recent marine base attack. Indeed there is little indication that the military is gaining ground over the insurgents.
Malaysia, on the other hand, is heading into what has been called a “watershed” election. The personal popularity ratings of Premier Najib has significantly hit an all-time low; there had been numerous campaigning disasters involving him; there is an embarrassing military stand-off in Sabah involving a group loyal to the Sultan of Sulu, where the Philippine President Aquino taking the initiative to the resolution of the conflict.
Under these circumstances, both the Thailand and Malaysian governments seemed to be in a desperate need for a breakthrough to solve and quell the insurgency, once and for all. The activities of the insurgents are causing both governments unnecessary embarrassment to the international scene. The Malaysian flag was displayed in the South in August 31st last year on Malayan Independence Day. In addition, troops and other security forces are kept to their grounds in the south in an attempt to protect major towns like Hat Yai and Chana from rebel attacks and Premier Yingluck Shinawatra seemed to have inherited her brother’s legacy of poor handling of the Southern insurgency hanging over her head. For his part, Premier Najib is in dire need of some form of diplomatic coup that would bolster his credentials, specifically with the rural Malays in Kelantan who sympathize with the insurgents’ cause, and the general population of Malaysia especially in view of the upcoming election due anytime in the near future.
These circumstances could have been the reason behind an agreement signed between the Thai Government during Premier Yinluck Shinawatra’s visit to Kuala Lumpur with one of the major insurgent groups, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BNR).
Lieutenant-General Panradom Pattanathabur, Secretary General of Thailand’s National Security Council, and Utaz Hassan Taib, identified as the Chief of the BRN liaison office in Malaysia signed a memorandum in Putra Jaya. The signing was witnessed by the Secretary General of the National Security Council within the Prime Minister’s Department, Mohamed Thajudeen Bin Abdul Wahab.
The agreement contains the following text under “General Consensus on Peace Dialogue Process” :
“The Government of Thailand has appointed the Secretary General of the National Security Council (Lieutenant-General Panradom Pattanathabur) to head the group supporting favorable environment creation to peace promotion in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand.
We are willing to engage in peace dialogue with people who have different opinions and ideologies from the state (note not directly referring to the BRN only), as one of the stakeholders in solving the Southern Border problem under the framework of the Thai Constitution while Malaysia would act as facilitator. Safety measures shall be provided to all members of the Joint Working Group throughout the entire process.”
– dated and signed 28th February 2013
Said document was lauded as a historical agreement and has been widely publicized in mainstream Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur Press. Interestingly enough, the online press of Malaysia hardly found space for this historical event.
What makes the signing of the memorandum historically important is the fact that BRN, one of the 20 plus different insurgent groups in the Deep South of Thailand may influence the other groups to go onboard with the peace process negotiations. Or, it can spark jealousy with other groups who might claim that the government should have negotiated with them and not BRN. Such jealousies between these groups can result to good or bad things. And this is one minor risk that Thailand was willing to take.
Despite the fact that such a memorandum has been signed, the demands and aspirations of the different insurgency groups have not been spelled out yet. This process will, however, put these points on the table for evaluation.
If only for this, memorandum signing may be considered a potential breakthrough as it may establish the positions of both sides which can be the talking points. From the sides of the insurgents, not much have been made known as to their demands and aspirations yet.
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