Southern Thailand peace talks go virtual

Southern Thailand peace talks go virtual

BANGKOK: Peace talks to end the conflict in the turbulent region of Southern Thailand are now being held virtually following a disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The technical team of the Peace Dialogue Panel, which is the representative of the Thai government, and the National Revolutionary Front (BRN) – the most influential armed group in southern Thailand – held the first virtual meeting on February 3 in preparation for the next round of talks.

The negotiations, which are being facilitated by former Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Mohd Noor, were interrupted when the Thai-Malaysian border was closed since March last year.

Spokesman of the information bureau of BRN’s secretariat Abdul Aziz Jabal said although the facilitators tried to hold the third round of talks several times, it could not be held as the COVID-19 pandemic had not subsided and the border between the two countries was still closed.

“Although face-to-face negotiations are not possible, both parties are committed to holding discussions through messages and correspondence under the arrangement of the secretariat.

“Based on a proposal from the facilitators, the BRN and the Thai government have agreed, via a video conference on February 3, to continue discussions at the technical level before the official round of third round talks are to be held,” he said in a video in conjunction with the declaration marking one year of negotiations between the BRN and the Thai government.

The first official talks between the BRN and the Thai government were held on January 20, 2020, followed by the second round on March 2 and 3 (2020) in Kuala Lumpur. The talks – attended by chief negotiator General Wanlop Rugsanaoh representing the Thai government, and BRN, led by Anas Abdulrahman – were seen as bringing new hope to end the violence in southern Thailand.

Abdul Aziz said both parties had discussed issues suchb as the involvement of all parties and community groups such as civil society organisations (CSO), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as religious, political and community figures, in the negotiation process.

Apart from that, other issues include the reduction of military action by both parties, and peaceful ‘political resolutions’, in realising the aspirations of the people and universal human rights values, he said.

The uprising in southern Thailand began in 2004 in four provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla, which claimed 7,000 lives.