Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s maiden visit to Thailand next month has raised hopes that he can help forge peace in Southern Thailand, local news reported.
Academicians and experts are upbeat that Anwar’s visit after being sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia last year is expected to add momentum to the southern Thailand peace dialogue process.
“Anwar is credited with having a more profound understanding of the southern unrest than his predecessors,” they said.
As Malaysia has emerged from a recent political crisis, the new leadership might be interested in embarking on fresh policies, which may include a serious involvement in helping to fix the insurgency problem in south Thailand, Bangkok Post reported.
Malaysia is the facilitator for the peace dialogue process in ending the decades old conflict that flared up in January 2004 in southern provinces in Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and parts of Songkhla.
Former chief of defence force Tan Sri Zulkifli Zainal Abidin has been appointed as the new Malaysian chief facilitator effective January 1, 2023, replacing former Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Mohd Noor, whose service ended on December 31, 2022.
Senior lecturer at Institute for Peace Studies of Prince of Songkla University, Assistant Prof. Dr Srisompob Jitpiromsri said the peace talks between the Thai government and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the most influential armed group in southern Thailand, should improve with Anwar as prime minister.
“He (Anwar) understands the insurgency issue well and retains longstanding connections with people in the southern provinces,” he was quoted saying by Bangkok Post.
“The terms of negotiations for Thailand are relatively intact with no change of government,” he said.
Meanwhile, former international relations lecturer at Chulalongkorn University Panitan Wattanayagorn, said the probability of peace talks bearing fruits is higher now compared to past years.
“Anwar is close to many figures in Thailand including politicians, senior military officers and academics as well as civil society.
“The peace talks could draw more insurgent groups other than BRN.
“In the broad picture, there are high hopes (for the peace talks) although they come with a degree of caution to avoid disappointment,” he said.
Independent academic and coordinator of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) for peace and development in the southern border areas, Mansor Salae said Anwar could play an instrumental role in making headway in the peace talks.
“Although Malaysia may have experienced hiccups exerting its role as facilitator due to internal politics, it has not been a problem for peace negotiations between the Thai government and the BRN separatist movement.
Meanwhile, Bangkok Post reported that Zulkifli is expected to hold discussion with General Wanlop who headed the Peace Dialogue Panel for the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand (PEDP) on February 28.
Talks between the government and rebels that began in 2013 to bring peace stalled following a military coup in Thailand a year later. Negotiations continued later without the main parties including BRN.
However, negotiations between the Thai government and the BRN resumed in 2019 with concrete and significant progress being made raising hopes for an end to violence in Thailand’s southern region.
Statistics by the independent monitoring group Deep South Watch indicate an unrelenting cycle of violence in southern Thailand, starting in 2004 in Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla, which has claimed more than 7,000 lives so far.