February 28, 2013 (TSR) – The national security chief signed a peace agreement with the insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) on Thursday just ahead of an official visit to Malaysia by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
It is the first formal engagement between the government and insurgents.
National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabutr said the BRN is a group that Malaysia believes operates in the deep South.
“It’s another attempt by the government to tackle the unrest. It does not mean the peace agreement will end the ongoing violence.”
The BRN official was identified as Hassan Taib, “chief of the BRN liaison office in Malaysia”. Barisan Revolusi Nasional in Bahasa Malaysia means “National Revolutionary Front”. It refers to the separatists’ concept that the three southernmost provinces and part of Songkhla represent a distinct nation.
The text of the agreement was not revealed, but Mr Hassan spoke briefly with reporters called in to cover the event.
“Allah willing, we will do our best to solve the problem. We will tell our people to work together to solve the problems,” he said.
Lt Gen Paradorn, speaking on Wednesday evening ahead of the formal agreement, said, “While I can’t guarantee the agreement will succeed, it must be better than letting the South burn on like this.”
He said the agreement was a result of the Thai-Malaysian Peace Dialogue signed after Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung met Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in the Malaysian capital recently.
Before the signing, a military source in Bangkok cautioned that while the BRN operates in the deep South, it does not control all militant cells, especially those at the operating level who still do not want to negotiate.
The national security chief also said the government is expected to hold talks with other southern insurgent leaders after Ms Yingluck comes back from Malaysia.
Lt Gen Paradorn was in Malaysia Wednesday to prepare the ground for Prime Minister Yingluck’s visit Thursday.
Ms Yingluck is scheduled to attend the Thailand-Malaysia annual consultation in Putrajaya and hold talks with Mr Najib on Thailand’s request for Malaysia to help arrange for discussions with insurgents in the deep South.
Lt Gen Paradorn said before leaving Bangkok Wednesday that several rebel leaders had approached him for talks.
“I am verifying whether they are indeed based in Malaysia and whether talks are possible before I proceed and ask Kuala Lumpur for cooperation. We estimate there are fewer than 1,000 insurgency sympathisers in Malaysia,” Lt Gen Paradorn said.
The army has estimated that about 9,000 militants are active in the deep South.
Lt Gen Paradorn said Mr Najib wanted to establish anti-insurgency cooperation not only with Thailand but with other countries in Asia as well.
The NSC chief is expected to sign an accord with his Malaysian counterpart that says the security chiefs will cooperate to tackle the insurgency.
He said the formal collaboration will allow authorities to monitor new areas and give the insurgents nowhere to turn but the negotiating table.”The condition for the talks is that seceding is off the agenda. It’s against our constitution,” Lt Gen Paradorn said.
If the issue of allowing a special administrative zone comes up, the NSC will look into details and see if it contravenes the charter, he said.
“The talks will let us know what they think and want so that we can design some solutions.
“Everything will be based on the rule of law and the constitution,” Lt Gen Paradorn said.
Security officials earlier voiced concern over Ms Yingluck’s attempt to forge such a formalised “peace talk”.
They said the government would be boosting the status of the insurgents if they enter into formal negotiations while weakening its own position.
Lt Gen Paradorn said asking for help from Malaysia does not mean Thailand is upgrading its domestic problem to the international level.
Prime Minister Yingluck Wednesday denied reports that her government planned to appoint former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh as a security adviser.
Ms Yingluck said Gen Chavalit had experience in dealing with the southernmost provinces but she has not had any discussions with him.
Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat, who will accompany Ms Yingluck to Malaysia, said peace talks would be better than no talks at all.
“Any method or approach that will improve the situation in the South will be considered a good one. Negotiation is one option. It’s nothing outrageous. How the discussion is arranged, whether we should have asked Malaysia to act as a facilitator, is a matter of detail,” ACM Sukumpol said.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government should exercise extreme caution before it enters into a formal agreement with any party.
“What is the role of Malaysia in this agreement? The government should be very careful because this is a very sensitive issue,” Mr Abhisit said.
Meanwhile, in Narathiwat, two power poles on the Narathiwat-Pattani highway in Yi-ngo district were brought down by blasts late on Tuesday night. No one was hurt. Yingor police chief Pol Col Suthon Sukviseth said a 5kg improvised bomb was attached to each pole and then remotely detonated.
THE PEACE PACT
This is the full text of the agreement signed on Thursday by Thailand and a representative of the National Revolutionary Front (BRN) in Kuala Lumpur.
General Consensus on Peace Dialogue Process
The Government of Thailand has appointed the Secretary-General of the National Security Council (to be referred to as party A) to head the group supporting favourable environment creation for 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 (to be referred to as party B) as one of the stakeholders in solving the Southern Border Provinces 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.
Done and signed in Kuala Lumpur on the 28th February 2013
For Party A Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanatabut
For Party B Ustaz Hassan Taib
Witnessed by Datuk Mohamed Thajudeen bin Abdul Wahab Secretary of the National Security Council of Malaysia
Still a long way to go after signing of Thailand-BRN agreement
Talks between the Thai government and representatives of the BRN insurgency group active in the far South will begin in two weeks, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Thursday.
The Malaysian premier was speaking in Kuala Lumpur after talks with visiting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
National Security Council (NSC) chief Paradorn Pattanatabut also confirmed talks between Thailand and factions within the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist movement will begin in two weeks.
Malaysia would facilitate the meeting by bringing BRN representatives to talks at a location in Thailand, he said in a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur.
“Malaysia will arrange for a meeting every two weeks from now, for me or my team to talk with BRN representatives at all levels to listen to their opinions and demands,” he said.
The NSC secretary-general signed documents with Hassan Taib, chief of the BRN liaison office in Malaysia, on Thursday in Kuala Lumpur, paving the way for dialogue with the BRN .
The signing has been generally welcomed. Academic and Muslim representatives in Thailand agreed the agreement is a big step forward, but said much more still has to be done before the problem in the far South can be settled. The violence would not end immediately.
Thanet Aphornsuvan, dean of the Pridi Banomyong International College’s Asean Studies Programme, said although the agreement was a rushed and less than transparent deal, it should still be considered a historic breakthrough.
The Thai state, said Mr Thanet, should have had made a similarly courageous but difficult decision long before now and announced that negotiation was the way out of this historical legacy in the far South.
“Peace dialogue is the way to diffuse political violence and this government has the mandate and has done its homework in launching the first step,” said Mr Thanet, whose book “Rebellion in Southern Thailand: Contending Histories” has been well-read internationally.
But he cautioned that the Thai state needs to steer the next direction firmly, without quarreling among the various agencies. The signing would not lead right away to peace and an end to the violence.
On the other side, the insurgent movement was not unified and discussing a modality that they could compromise or agree with would eventually destroy their militant strength, Mr Thanet noted.
“I wonder if the movements, particularly the political wings, have prepared for this, whether they are efficient enough to manage certain administrative tasks in the future,” he said.
The “general consensus document to launch a dialogue process for peace in the southern border provinces of Thailand” was signed by Lt Gen Paradorn, and Mr Hassan on behalf of the BRN in Malaysia on Thursday morning in Kuala Lumpur.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, Chulalongkorn University associate professor of political science, said the hush-rush deal, with no checks or balances from the Foreign Ministry, was a dangerous move.
“Talks have occurred all along, somehow, somewhere, but any agreement signed should have been weighed more carefully so as not to undermine the bargaining chips and dignity of the Thai state,” said Mr Panitan, a former deputy secretary-general to former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The merits of the deal would certainly go to the ruling governments of the two countries, particularly in light of the forthcoming election in Malaysia, he said.
Mr Panitan said Malaysia might have to pressure the insurgents to show up in Thailand. The real results on the ground would be apparent in the next few days – whether the younger generation of the militant RKK, a separate group, would show their defiance to the older and non-commanding figures being courted to the negotiating table.
“If things turn sour, Malaysia could twist our arms, saying peace is spoiled because Thailand did not agree with its proposed deals that the court has to release this and that person, guaranteeing safety and security of the insurgents, and giving them autonomy, etc. After all, Malaysia is a stakeholder here, it is part of the conflict; it’s risky that we are dealing with them like this,” said Mr Panitan.
Abdulrahman Abdulsamad, one of the newly appointed Wadah group advisers to Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, said the accord was a big step toward peace, but the violence would stop immediately.
“Israel and Palestine have peace agreements but the violence is always on and off. What is needed after the peace talks should include better education, better justice and decentralisation, so that the local people feel they have an ownership stake in the affairs imposed upon them,” said Mr Abdulrahman, who is chairman of the newly set up Confederation of Islamic Councils in five southern provinces.
He said the people on the ground have now debated what they expect, such as a People’s Council so they can discuss their affairs in their own dialect.
Somchai Homlaor, a member of the Law Reform Committee, said talking was better than killing but details of who, what, when, where and why in the agreement should be shared openly.
“This is not a deal involving the government’s affairs, but the whole nation’s, therefore the authorities concerned should expedite the process in a discreet and accountable manner,” said Mr Somchai.
Mr Somchai said Malaysia should have shown sincerity in addressing several other transnational border problems such as drug trafficking and smuggling as well.
Artef Sohko, coordinator of the Pattani Academy for Peace and Development, also lauded the Malaysian cooperation, but noted that sustainability of the negotiation process undertaken by the Thai state was rather more important.
“There are some progressive minds in the bureaucracy but there is no continuity in those sound initiatives. Also, the mandate and scope of talks should be clearly identified,” said Mr Artef.
He agreed with Mr Somchai that negotiations were the most effective tool in addressing the southern problem, and should be coupled with a common learning process involving the general Thai public as well.
“That those who think differently and are usually portrayed as bandits or criminals have become the party to talks with Thai authorities might be a shock for Thai society in general,” he said.
“Therefore, this peace talks process needs to also be under the auspices of the rest of Thailand, not just the three southernmost provinces,” the Pattani activist said.
Mr Somchai added that in light of underlying political moves the Thai state should seriously take into account how best to engage and open space for discussions and include the aspirations of civil society as well.
“Eventually, those who think differently from the Thai state, the separatists for example, will be talking in public rather than taking up guns and resorting to violence to raise their demands,” said Mr Somchai.
Source: Bangkok Post