Don’t expect yesterday’s agreement between the self-proclaimed leader of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), Hassan Thoyib, and National Security Council (NSC) chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr to have any impact on the insurgency and the violence in the deep South, because the BRN is too factionalised.
Sources in other separatist movements, including BRN factions not affiliated with Hassan, as well as Thai and Malaysian security officials, said Hassan does not have any major influence with the militants on the ground.
These sources said they are aware of many other separatist leaders whose credentials are considered much better than Hassan’s because they have demonstrated they have solid command and control on the ground.
However, they will not come to the negotiating table because the Thai government refuses to grant them immunity, the sources said.
Thailand can’t be reaching out one hand for peace while at the same time holding an arrest warrant in another hand, they said.
Since these leaders refuse to come to the table, Thailand had to settle for someone who was available – and that someone was Hassan, Thai and Malaysian officials said.
Tawil Pliensri, a former secretary-general of the NSC, doubted the government was dealing with the right person. As there were several groups and factions involved in the violence in the South, betting on one person was too risky, he said.
Indeed, Thai authorities have been dealing with several groups, and upgrading any specific group would not be the right way, he said. “I don’t think the pact [with BRN] will end all problems,” he said.
Betting on Hassan was a leap of faith, and it is hoped that Hassan can convince other separatist leaders to join the peace process, which Kuala Lumpur has been asked to facilitate.
“God willing, we’ll do our best to solve the problem. We will tell our people to work together,” Hassan said after a brief signing ceremony with NSC chief Paradorn.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the peace talks would take place in Kuala Lumpur in two weeks. He regarded the signing as “merely the starting point of a long process” because many issues have to be resolved, but added that it was a “solid demonstration of the common resolve to find and establish an enduring peace in southern Thailand”.
The peace pact was signed in Malaysia yesterday shortly before the arrival of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was making an official visit.
Yingluck said Thailand “wished to see a lasting solution in the southern border provinces”, where the nine-year revolt by a number of shadowy groups has claimed more than 5,500 lives.
“We need to move forward as soon as possible,” she told a news conference after a meeting with Najib in the Malaysian government headquarters of Putrajaya.
Thailand had taken up a similar approach from 2006 to last year under the so-called Geneva Process, under which a European NGO was to mediate talks between the NSC and one of the three factions of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo).
But Prime Minister Yingluck, who did not rule out the role of her elder brother Thaksin in taking part in peace talks, ditched the Geneva Process and gave the mandate to facilitate to Malaysia.
In a statement, Pulo yesterday expressed support for the Malaysia-brokered talks between Thailand and the BRN.
Within Pulo there are at least three known leaders – Samsudine Khan, Noor Abdulrahman and Kasturi Mahkota.
It was not clear if Hassan has any pending charges against him. His claim to fame is the fact that he was a personal assistant to the late Haji Amin Toemeena, the late brother of Den Toemeena, a former Pattani MP under the Wadah Faction, which is affiliated with the ruling Pheu Thai Party.
Thai and Malaysian official sources said Bangkok really wanted Sapae-ing Basor, the former principle of Thamvithya Mulniti Islamic school in Yala, to come to the table with Paradorn.
Sapae-ing is the only exiled leader who is a household name in Thailand’s Malay-speaking South.
Thai police accuse him of being a major separatist leader of BRN, but sources in the movement see him as a spiritual leader of not just the militants on the ground but of all Muslims in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces.
In this respect, Sapae-ing could serve as the much-needed link between the insurgents, the exiled separatist leaders and the Malay Muslim residents of the deep South. But because he is a spiritual leader, Sapae-ing will not permit himself to be exploited for political gain. “Spiritual leaders don’t compromise,” said one of his closest associates.
Exiled separatist leaders said BRN is not the only group with militants on the ground. One leader said at least three of the 16 militants killed at the recent shoot-out in Bacho, Narathiwat, were affiliated with Pulo.
There is also the question of Malaysia’s role in this peace process. Hardliners in the Thai government and the Thai Army, as well as separatist leaders, said Malaysia is not an honest broker, but a stakeholder. The hardliners say they would rather deal directly with the separatist leaders, collectively or individually.