Rebels threaten to quit Thai peace talks
Rebels in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south have threatened to quit peace talks with the government, as bloodshed during a Ramadan ceasefire dampened hopes of an end to years of fighting.
In a video posted on the YouTube website, three rebels wearing balaclavas and combat gear and holding automatic weapons said the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) - one of several militant groups - would withdraw from the talks.
“The Thai occupiers have committed betrayal, violence, lied and slandered the Pattani people,” one of them said, in the video posted on Tuesday and confirmed by sources close to the talks on Thursday.
Pattani is one of several provinces in the south, where some 5,700 people have been killed since the insurgency flared in 2004. Rebels also use the word to refer to the whole deep south region.
Rounds of talks in Malaysia between Thai authorities and some rebel groups, including the BRN, had raised tentative hopes of peace. A ceasefire, supposed to last from July 10 to August 18 to mark the Islamic holy month, initially appeared to hold.
But rebel attacks began again after a few days, with local observers recording 29 deaths during Ramadan which ended onWednesday.
In the clip, rebels said Thai authorities had failed to meet the conditions of the negotiations, without detailing their complaints.
It was not possible to verify who the rebels in the clip represent. But an official involved in the talks said they were from BRN, which has shown signs of internal division recently.
The official said the video was an attempt to press Thailand to meet the BRN’s five key demands, which include releasing prisoners and recognising it as a liberation movement.
“It sounds like there won’t be any more talks, but actually that’s not the case,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
“Once the BRN is satisfied, they will continue the dialogue.”
Talks between the government and representatives of the BRN began on March 28 but have so far failed to halt near-daily violence, raising questions about the rebel group’s influence over increasingly violent grassroots insurgents.
The clip may raise pressure on Hassan Taib, the BRN’s lead negotiator, who has been challenged to prove he can control the violence in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking south.
“The clip is the work of people who disagree with Taib and want to stop negotiations,” Thai army negotiator General Nipat Thonglek said, playing down its significance.
“It will not affect negotiations... the talks must continue,” he said.
Conflict monitors DeepSouth Watch said that 29 people were killed in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces during the Ramadan ceasefire - 15 civilians and 14 members of Thailand’s security forces.
Among the dead was Imam Yacob Raimanee of the Pattani Central Mosque, a key voice in favour of ending the bloody insurgency, who was shot dead on Monday.