Despite Recent Attacks, Southern Thailand’s Peace Talks Are Making Progress

Despite Recent Attacks, Southern Thailand’s Peace Talks Are Making Progress
Thai crime scene investigators inspect the site of a bomb explosion in Yala, southern Thailand, March 17, 2020 (AP photo).

After a two-year hiatus in talks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first half of 2022 has seen quantifiable progress in the peace dialogue between Thailand’s government and separatist rebels based in the country’s Muslim-majority south. Since the beginning of the year, two rounds of formal negotiations have been held in Kuala Lumpur, in a Malaysia-facilitated process that has seen the government’s Peace Dialogue Panel, or PDP, meet face-to-face with leaders of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, or BRN, the most powerful rebel group in southern Thailand.

The latest meeting, which concluded on April 1, led to a 40-day truce that covered the holy month of Ramadan and the Thai New Year, or Songkran. The festivities were held without incident, as the army and BRN avoided clashing, building momentum ahead of a third round of dialogue scheduled for July or August.

But there are signs that not everyone in the south is on board with the peace process. On April 15, the Patani United Liberation Organization, or PULO, an older rebel group whose remnants had been inactive for half a decade, disrupted the truce with a double bomb attack in Sai Buri, a district located in Pattani province. The first explosion killed a fisherman, while a second device injured three police bomb-disposal officers responding to the scene. PULO’s leader, Kasturi Mahkota, told local news outlets that his fighters did not approve of the recent talks involving BRN and vowed to fight for full independence rather than autonomy, which many suspect will be the most likely endpoint of the current talks. Then, less than two weeks after the truce ended on May 14, BRN fighters attacked a police station in Tak Bai, a district in Narathiwat province, with rifles and grenades, marking the first attack by the group in months.

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