Even before it begins, splinter groups seek to stop Malaysia-led negotiations, reports Asia Sentinel

In a grim illustration of the difficulty of bringing Thailand’s Islamic insurgents to peace talks, two bombs were apparently set off Saturday in protest of the talks by splinter groups in southern Narathiwat Province, wounding six people and causing heavy property damage.

Thailand Southern Violence

Thai EOD officers examine the wreckage of a pickup truck after a bomb blast in southern Thailand last year. More bombings over the weekend threaten to derail the peace process even before it has begun. Pic: AP.

As Asia Sentinel reported Saturday, the insurgency in Southern Thailand comprises as many as 20 different groups, often in competition with each other for primacy as well as being arrayed against the central government in Bangkok. From the start, there were concerns over whether the Thai and Malaysian governments could find the right ones to negotiate with.

The explosions followed the announcement Thursday that the Thai and Malaysian governments had agreed to negotiations with one of the major insurgent groups, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (National Revolutionary Front), in Kuala Lumpur. Some observers said the talks were more aimed at shoring up Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s support in the Malaysian states bordering Thailand than at bringing the insurgents to the table.

The memorandum announcing the negotiations 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 was signed on Feb. 28 and was heralded as a historical agreement in the effort to end Thailand’s bitter eight-year-old insurgency, which has taken as nearly 4,000 lives in the four southern provinces along the porous, deeply jungled border with Malaysia.

The Barisan Revolusi Nasional was formed in 1963. Although it may one of the largest groups involved in the insugency, as Asia Sentinel reported was questionable at the start if any others would come aboard. The biggest of the revolutionary groups is the Pattani United Liberation Organization, known as PULO. It does not appear to be a party to the negotiations. Other major combatants are the Mujahideen Pattani Movement, the Pattani Islamic Mujahideen Movement, the Pattani Liberation National Front and the Mujahideen Islamic Pattani Group.

None of the groups took credit for the Narathiwat bombings. Defense and intelligence sources said they were carried out independently and were regarded as a demonstration that the agreement reached in Malaysia were in effect irrelevant to the separatist cause that has wracked the region.

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