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Thai government will be cautious when looking at the demands of a Muslim independence movement

A top Thai security official has said that the Thai government will be cautious when looking at the demands of a Muslim independence movement today, Friday, 23rd August as it tries to find a way to end violence in southern Thailand that has claimed more than five thousand lives.

National security officers will look into the demands of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional from all angles said the Secretary General of Thailand’s National Security Council, Lt Gen. Paradorn Pattanatabut.

The far south of the country has been under attack for years by insurgency groups who want to create a separate state in the southernmost provinces of Thailand that include Malay speaking Muslim Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, provinces that share cultural and religious affinity with Malaysia. These three provinces have never fully integrated into the rest of the Buddhist majority of the country and were annexed by Bangkok over a century ago.

Analysts say that the continued attacks that started in 2004 have fit a pattern of insurgents pursuing what appears to be a campaign of ethnic cleansing against symbols of the Thai state in this area. Targets have included government officials, soldiers and teachers as well as Muslims who collaborate Thai authorities that have, in the past, been assassinated.

It was hoped that the situation in the south would be improved when the Thai government entered into a peace agreement with the BRN earlier on in the year but insurgent violence persisted and more injuries and deaths were reported in the region, surprisingly even during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month when it had been agreed that the BRN would stop attacking government forces and inflicting damage on public properties.

Despite talks between the Barisan Revolusi Nasional and the Thai government little progress has been made to bring peace to the area and only a few days ago an Islamic religious teacher was shot and killed in a drive by shooting in Pattani province; believed to have been carried out by separatists.

Pracha Promnog, Thailand’s deputy prime minister in charge of security will meet with leaders of Thailand’s armed forces today to discuss the groups five demands that were posted on YouTube in April. The BRN has asked for mediation from Malaysia, not facilitation as it has been in the past. The BRN wants representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and non-governmental organizations to witness the talks. One of the demands is that Thailand acknowledges the rights of the Melayu Pattani nation for a “land of Pattani, and the release o the detained Pattani liberation warriors who were imprisoned over violence related to the conflict.

However, Mr. Pracha told reporters that Friday morning meeting may not come up with anything specific because much information must be reviewed.

Lt. Gen. Paradorn added that the government-appointed Committee on the Mobilization of Southern Border Provinces Policy and Strategies will likely convene a meeting next week to look at all details and viewpoints derived from talks by the national security agencies and other public forums before the peace process with BRN continues.  The dialogue has been stalled after BRN issued its demands in April.

Sunai Phasuk, Thailand’s representative of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said much work is ahead.

“The stalemate in the peace dialogue occurred because both sides are looking at the process from different views.  Thailand looks at it as a confidence-building process while BRN views it as a negotiation and that’s why they made all demands,” Mr. Sunai said. “The peace dialogue will proceed if both can engage in trust-building by agreeing with and addressing the issues of injustice, abuses and cultural impunity in the deep south.”

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