Desperately seeking success in the Thai deep southBy Asia Sentinel Mar 03, 2013 11:04PM UTC
Malaysia to host negotiations with Thailand’s Islamic insurgents writes Murray Hunter for Asia Sentinel
The surprise of an agreement signed between the Thai government and Malaysia during Premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s visit to Kuala Lumpur for negotiations with one of the major insurgent groups, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), should actually not be a surprise. It is also questionable whether there is anything to the agreement.
Malaysia is heading into what could be called a watershed election. Premier Najib Tun Razak’s personal popularity rating has fallen although it is still well into positive territory, there have been a number of campaigning mishaps for him of late, and there is an embarrassing military stand-off in Sabah with a group loyal to the Sulu Sultan, where the Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino is the one taking initiatives.
In this environment, both the Thai and Malaysian governments need a breakthrough. Of late, the insurgents have undertaken many embarrassing ploys like displaying Malaysian flags on Aug. 31, Malaysia?s Independence day. In addition, troops and other security forces are all tied trying to protect major towns like Hat Yai and Chana from attacks, and Yingluck has her brother’s legacy of poor handling of the insurgency hanging over her. Najib badly needs some form of diplomatic coup to bolster his credentials, particularly with the rural Malays in Kelantan who are not unsympathetic to the insurgent cause, and the general population of Malaysia with the oncoming election.
The memorandum was signed in Malaysia’s administrative capital of Putrajaya by Lieutenant-General Panradom Pattanathabur, Secretary general of Thailand’s National Security Council, and Utaz Hassan Taib, who was identified as the chief of the BRN liaison office in Malaysia. The document, signed on Feb. 28, has been heralded by all as an historical agreement and has been reported widely in both the mainstream Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur Press, although it’s interesting Malaysia’s online press hardly mentioned it.
The BRN, formed in 1963, is one of up to 20 different insurgency groups in Thailand?s deep south. Although it may one of the largest groups, it is yet to be seen if any others may come on board, or even take a hostile view, believing that they have been left out and should be the group that the government negotiates. With jealousies between some of these groups, this is a minor risk that the Thai government has taken.
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