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BRN call for foreign observers at peace talks a key test for Bangkok

Don Pathan
Special to The Nation
 October 19, 2015 1:00 am

Insurgent group says it is willing to negotiate if Thailand follows international norms
For an organisation whose leadership is very secretive, Barisan Revolusi Nasional is drifting into uncharted territory as its "Information Department" reaches out to foreign media to make their case about Thailand's questionable effort to secure peace in its southernmost provinces.

Reaching out to foreign media may have come out of a desire to remind the world that
 BRN's leadership has yet to endorse Thailand's current peace initiative.
Nevertheless, it was a step in a more conventional direction - one that could force the Thai government to rethink its own information strategy, according to a Thai government official working on the conflict in the southernmost provinces.

What was interesting, noted the Thai official and Artef Sohko, a youth activist and member of a political action group, the Academy of Patani Raya for Peace and Development (Lempar), was that the
 BRN Information Department had reached out to Anthony Davis, a veteran writer who has for decades written on security issues and conflicts around Asia for Jane's Defence Weekly and other major publications.
For years, much of the information about the conflict in Thailand's southernmost provinces had been provided by the state, making any reporting lopsided.

But the Thai government will no longer enjoy a monopoly on the flow of information should groups like theBRN, which controls a vast majority of the insurgents on the ground, begin to seriously exercise their communication strategy.

 BRN source said the leadership in the movement, namely the Dewan Pimpinan Party, or DPP, agreed to the interview because they wanted to set the record straight regarding the peace initiative of Thailand, the Malaysian government and MARA Patani, the recently established umbrella organisation.
Whether this was a one-time thing remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it was enough to get Thais to seriously think about what the future holds in the realm of communication strategy.

Besides the recent interview with Davis,
 BRN's leadership also issued a four-page statement slamming Thailand for deceiving the world with the initiative but not being willing to make any meaningful concession.
 said they are willing to negotiate for peace but the process must be carried out along international norms and the talks must be witnessed by foreign states.
As expected, Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan rejected the demand that foreign governments observe the peace talks.

Bangkok has never liked the idea of foreign mediation for fear of "internationalising" the conflict, which they feel would give too much legitimacy to the separatists.

 sources said the DPP would only endorse the peace talks if their negotiators are properly prepared and their political wings receive the needed immunity.
Earlier last month, just 10 days after the August 27 launch of MARA Patani in Kuala Lumpur, the DPP reminded the world about their feeling about the Thai state through a statement read out by Abdulkarim Khalid, a member of the movement's youth wing who's also part of the
 BRN Information Department.
In the video statement, he

criticised the Thai state for

being insincere and lacking

legitimacy in Malays' historical homeland, which is today's

southern border provinces.

It was hard to dismiss Abdulkarim's statement as irrelevant because he was not an unknown entity. The man was at the negotiating table at the previous round of talks launched by the Yingluck government in February 2013.

Abdulkarim was sent to the talks by the DPP under a very strict mandate. He could not negotiate - as theBRN's DPP did not officially endorse the Yingluck initiative - but would observe and report back to the top leaders.

That initiative ended in late 2013 when the designated "BRN
 liaison", Hasan Taib, threw in the towel and went incommunicado. Street protests in Bangkok also sent the Yingluck government into survival mode until her administration was ousted in May of last year by a military coup.
Seven months after the putsch, the junta decided to pick up where the Yingluck team had left off, but with conditions. Prime Minister
 Prayut Chan-o-cha demanded that the separatist leaders develop a common platform and implement "a period of peace".
Thai officials said "the period of peace", or ceasefire, was to demonstrate that MARA Patani members had adequate command-and-control over the militants on the ground.

Bangkok did not get their "period of peace" but the separatists did form the MARA Patani, a platform for their common strategy and for dealing with the Thais collectively.

 rejected the idea of granting MARA Patani formal recognition and legal immunity but said talks could continue - in an unofficial capacity.
MARA Patani was a sideshow, or Track 1.5, to the Yingluck official Track 1 initiative that has Malaysia as designated facilitator.

Today, with Hasan and Abdulkarim abandoning the initiative, the sideshow was elevated to a formal Track 1. But being on Track 1 does not guarantee MARA Patani members formal or meaningful recognition as Bangkok does not want to give away too much too soon to the Patani Malay groups.

But if MARA Patani could secure a buy-in from the DPP, Bangkok just might take them more seriously and grant them the recognition they want, security officials said.

For the time being, MARA Patani, Thailand's dialogue panel (negotiators) and the Malaysian facilitators are pinning their hopes on a small group of young
 BRN members who broke ranks and joined the peace talks.
Two of these individuals - Sukree Hari and Ahmad Chuwo - were paraded to the press in Kuala Lumpur with other MARA Patani representatives. They still called themselves "BRN" but combatants on the ground said, "Who cares?" What matters, in today's context, is who has command-and-control on the ground.

The Thai negotiators, MARA Patani and Kuala Lumpur were hoping that these former teachers from Thamvithya Mulnithi School in Yala could bridge the gap between them and the
 BRN ruling council.
But the recently released four-page statement, along with Abdulkarim's statement on YouTube, not to mention the interview with Davis, was
 BRN's way of telling all stakeholders that there is no shortcut to peace.
Thai officials have quietly acknowledged that parading the pair to the media in late August along with the MARA Patani may have been a premature move.

Perhaps all sides should have waited until they are certain that these former teachers have secured the needed endorsement from the
 BRN's ruling council.
Don Pathan is an independent security consultant and a founding member of the Patani Forum (www.pataniforum.com


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