Thailand held its first formal peace talks with a rebel group from its insurgency-wracked south yesterday, as a bombing killed three people in a stark reminder of the difficulties negotiators face.
The talks with representatives from the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) insurgent group, expected to last one day, will focus on reducing bloodshed, Thai National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut said, adding the overall peace process would take time.
“Today’s main focus is to reduce violence. Today, we will focus on building mutual trust and good relations,” Paradorn told reporters in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, where the meeting was being held. “I am confident that they will communicate our message to their militants, but because BRN is a large organization, we have to give them some time.”
The insurgency in the southernmost Muslim-majority provinces that border Malaysia has been waged by a number of shadowy groups and killed more than 5,500 people over the past nine years.
Thailand blamed a bombing yesterday morning that killed three people on militants seeking to sabotage peace efforts, underscoring the problems that lie ahead.
Three Thai paramilitaries were killed and five wounded in the roadside bombing targeting a security patrol in Narathiwat Province.
“Violence this morning is related to the talks in Malaysia,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said in Bangkok.
He said not all militants supported the talks, reiterating the view of many experts who warn of a generational gap between older insurgents who want to negotiate and more militant younger members.
Chalerm also cast doubt on the BRN representatives’ authority to negotiate.
“I am not confident either they are real core leaders,” he said.
He added that “there are many groups operating in the south and not all of them agree on talks ... After talks today, we will know whether they are genuine or fake.”
Paradorn had said on Wednesday that during the talks, Thailand would seek to secure a halt to attacks on civilian targets so it can determine whether the BRN envoys actually control battle-hardened militants on the ground.
Little is known about the various militant groups’ identities, structures or aims. There is near-daily violence in southern Thailand, including bombings, ambushes and even beheadings.
The BRN, whose Malay name means “National Revolutionary Front,” is one of the larger groups held responsible by Thailand for the violence.
Paradorn said Thailand hoped other groups would join future talks.
“I see BRN as the largest and most influential group behind the unrest, so after the talks BRN can spread the word to their fighters and then we will see a concrete result,” he said.
“I don’t know how many rounds of talks there will be, but we will keep on negotiating,” he added.
BRN representatives did not make themselves available for comment.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has already hosted negotiations between the Philippines and Muslim separatists in that country, which resulted in a landmark agreement in October last year aimed at burying a decades-long insurgency there.
The roots of the Thai insurgency draw on longstanding Malay nationalist antipathy to rule by Buddhist Thailand, which started when Bangkok annexed the region in 1902.