FORGING a meaningful peace process in the predominantly Muslim deep South was a key agenda item during a meeting between visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and PM Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday.
The leaders expressed doubts, however, over MARA Patani’s claim to represent the various militant groups and a claim by Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) to have been behind recent high-profile attacks.
Combating terrorism, the trafficking in persons and goods as well as other border-security arrangements – including a plan to build a fence along the Thai-Malaysian border – were also on the agenda of the two premiers, according to a Thai government statement.
Thailand urged Malaysia to facilitate the dialogue between the government’s delegation, led by General Aksara Kerdpol, and MARA Patani, which claims to be the umbrella organisation of insurgents in the southernmost provinces of the Kingdom.
The previous discussion between the general and MARA Patani in Kuala Lumpur on September 2 yielded no concrete results, although they said they could reach common ground on the terms of reference for a peace process.
Peace talks are aimed at ending the violence in the deep South, which has killed more than 6,500 people since early 2004. The two government leaders reacted with caution on MARA Patani’s claim to be able to control militants on the ground.
BRN said it had been involved in a number of violent incidents last week, including the bombing that derailed a train in Pattani province and a bomb blast in front of a school in Narathiwat, which killed many people, including a five-year-old girl.
MARA Patani issued a statement on Thursday condemning the violence and insisted its position was to solve the conflict with peaceful means.
While BRN said it had orchestrated the recent violence in the deep South to show its disapproval of the ongoing talks about a peace process and reject the safety-zone initiative, Thai authorities said over the past few days that they did not believe the organisation’s claim.
Local media reported that BRN was also involved in bomb and arson attacks in seven provinces in the predominantly Buddhist upper South of Thailand before and on Mothers’ Day last month.
Army chief General Teerachai Nakwanich yesterday said the August 11-12 attacks in seven tourist towns, including Phuket and Samui, were not linked to the deep South separatist group BRN.
He urged people not to get confused because the police probe into those attacks had made much progress, and everything pointed to various groups in the area benefiting from the incidents. He said Army chief adviser General Aksara had discussed the matter with separatists at a recent session with MARA Patani and learned that they were not behind the attacks.
Teerachai yesterday visited the southern border province of Pattani, where he attended a meeting at the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 Forward Command to provide a policy briefing to security officers.
He was also briefed about progress in investigations into recent significant attacks, including a Pattani hotel car bomb that killed one person and injured 40 others, and the railway bombing in the same province that killed one railway official and wounded three others.
Teerachai was also briefed on measures to provide security to the public during the Hari Raya Festival on September 12.
Meanwhile, Yala’s Betong border checkpoint was yesterday crowded with Thai Muslim holidaymakers who returned from working in Malaysia to celebrate Hari Raya with relatives in the deep South.
Betong immigration inspector Pol Major Sukree Pladsama increased manpower for passport-checking counters from the normal level and opened more lanes for incoming cars in order to accommodate the higher volume of travellers.