Challenges in ending conflict between Malay-Muslims (southern provinces) and Thai government
The Ramadan truce between the Barisal Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and the Thai government came to end on May 14, 2022. On August 1-2, 2022, the 5th round of peace talks took place in Kuala Lumpur between both the parties mediated by Malaysia.
Apparently some progress was made as both the parties agreed to continue the talks at a later date.
In the latest round of talks held in Kuala Lumpur, the objective was to reduce systematic violence so as to commence public consultation process with long term solutions in mind.
Whether the peace dialogues will bear any solutions to one of the longest and deadly conflicts in Asia remains to be seen. Below I discuss some of the major challenges for the parties involved and whether there will be ultimate peace in the Malay-Muslim provinces of Southern Thailand.
First, whether there will be enough international pressure on both the BRN and Thai government to get serious about the peace process remains to be seen.
While the BRN might gain from international pressure, this might not be the case for the Thai government. Thais might regard outside involvement as a gross interference in the country’s internal affairs.
To date only one or two representatives from outside are allowed to sit on the dialogue panel. Second, the involvement of Malaysia as facilitator or mediator in the person of the former inspector general of police Abdul Rahim Noor might be problematic.
While the BRN representatives are happy in Malaysia’s involvement, hosting the talks, allowing the free movement of the rebels in and out of the country, there is a concern that Malaysia under pressure from Thailand might be wanting a quick settlement of the problem by pressuring the BRN.
Talks between the BRN and the Thai government were made possible by backdoor manoeuvres and initiatives that might not have been in the knowledge of the Malaysian government.
This could be the reason why Malaysia recently retaliated by arresting a few BRN members and handing them over the Thai authorities.
It must be remembered in the case of the Acehnese conflict, the rebel organisation Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) made sure from the beginning that they would never engage Malaysia as a facilitator in the conflict with Indonesia because of the former’s lack of impartiality.
This is despite the fact that thousands of Acehnese refugees fled the civil war to seek sanctuary in Malaysia. Third, most peace dialogues face the problem of what is agreed and what is implemented.
Even though both the BRN and Thai government had agreed to reduce ground hostilities, the actual implementation might be problem.
This reveals among other things that both parties might not have a full control over the ground forces.
In situations like this, sabotage of the peace process is there.
Fourth, although BRN is recognised as the official representative of the Pattani Malay Muslims, there are contestants as well.
The Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), the other liberation outfit, has been excluded from the peace process.
There is concern that if BRN makes too many concessions to the Thai government, the increasing radicalisation of young Malays might be possible through the efforts of the PULO.
The attacks on the Thai security forces despite the need for cessation of hostilities might be the work of PULO or others.
Fifth, the Thai government might not be particularly favourable to an eventual peace settlement even for a provision of a substantial autonomy for the Malay-Muslim provinces in the south of the country.
Needless to say, an independent country for the Malay-Muslims in the south might be out of the question. I don’t think Malaysia with all its pro-Malay-Muslim propaganda might agree to independent state for the Malay-Muslims in the southern provinces.
The oscillation between civilian and military politics of the Thai government is something not in favour of the Malay-Muslims in the south.
The difficulty in civilians taking control of the military establishment poses problems of huge magnitude for peace to take shape in the troubled south.
The Thai military authorities want a quick end to the problem by crushing the rebels once and for all. The civilian establishments might want a protracted negotiations with the BRN to bring an amicable settlement to the long standing dispute.
The five challenges that I have outlined are something crucial for peace building in the restive south. More than 7,300 lives have been lost in the conflict from 2004 onwards.
Of the course, the history of hostility between the predominantly Buddhist Thailand and the Malay-Muslim majority in the southern provinces go back a long time ago.
It is not that conflict cannot be resolved with a satisfactory solution acceptable to the parties. The peace dialogues themselves are significant trust building mechanisms that should be encouraged.￼