Attacks a setback for peace talks . . .
A meeting yesterday between local officials and Muslim scholars on the COVID-19 outbreak became a target of co-ordinated bombing attacks that left 20 people injured in southern Thailand. Although no one has claimed responsibility, it is assumed the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) is responsible. The BRN is an insurgent group that opposes Thai control over three provinces in the country’s deep south, where a majority of the population is Muslim and ethnically Malay. The bombings are the latest setback for a peace dialogue process that began in 2015.
Divided on dialogue . . .
While the peace talks have proceeded in fits and starts, they present an opportunity to end a 16-year streak of violence that has claimed 7,000 lives. Both sides, however, have been hampered by internal divisions. The government is split between those who are invested in the dialogue process and those who believe a military defeat of the insurgency is the only acceptable course of action. The insurgents are also divided, as the BRN has refused to join the talks. The International Crisis Group – a transnational non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Brussels – reports that some of the BRN’s younger members are inclined to give the dialogue a chance and to consider autonomy from Bangkok rather than full independence. Older members, in contrast, seem determined to keep fighting for full independence.
Chance to push the re-set button . . .
Rather than succumb to another cycle of violence, there are ways the two sides could re-start the peace process. One is for Malaysia, which has played a mediating role, to step aside and allow a more neutral third party to assume that role. But Bangkok is wary of anything that would invite more international actors into the process. Another is for the BRN to join the dialogue and be more transparent in its aims and agenda. In the meantime, the local population continues to bear the brunt of this stalemate. Although the overall level of violence in the south has decreased since 2007, a survey last year found that half of the local residents felt there had been no significant improvement in the security situation.
- Al Jazeera: Several wounded in twin bomb attacks in Thailand’s restive region
- Human Rights Watch: Thailand: Insurgents bomb government agency in south
- International Crisis Group: Southern Thailand’s peace dialogue: Giving substance to form