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Southern Peace Talks to Resume in June After ‘Succcessful’ Ramadan Ceasefire

People pray before they break fast during an event in Narathiwat's Rangae District on April 14 as Muslim worldwide observed the holy month of Ramadan.
People pray before they break fast during an event in Narathiwat's Rangae District on April 14 as Muslim worldwide observed the holy month of Ramadan.

The government is hopeful for a lasting ceasefire with Muslim separatists after a de-escalation in violence in the three Muslim-majority southernmost provinces during the entire month of Ramadan.

Thai peace negotiators and representatives of militant groups agreed to a ceasefire back in March for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the truce, which runs from April 3 to May 15, has so far been kept apart from a bomb that killed a villager in Pattani province on April 15.

The fact that the truce has been kept by insurgents bodes well for a similar long-term ceasefire, according to Gen. Wallop Raksanoh, the head of the government’s negotiation team.

The government team is scheduled to resume talks with the representatives of insurgents, who want to gain complete independence for Thailand’s Muslim-majority southernmost region, in June.

The next round of talks will seek to expand the scope of the current ceasefire agreement and make it longer-lasting, the general said.

More than 7,000 people, both Muslims and Buddhists, have died and tens of thousands of others have been injured in bombings, drive-by shootings and other attacks in addition to operations by security forces since 2014 when an armed separatist insurgency erupted against Thai state in the southernmost provinces.

Both Islamist militants and Thai security forces have committed numerous rights violations, the former by targeting civilians and the latter by engaging in extrajudicial killings, summary arrests and torture, according to rights groups.

The prospect for lasting peace has proved elusive so far because hardline ethnic Malay insurgents have said they would accept no political settlement short of full independence, while the military-allied government appear dead-set against granting even greater autonomy to the restive provinces.

The Thai state has sought for decades to inculcate young Muslims in the area with a sense of “Thainess” through cultural and educational projects.

At the same time, however, Thai security forces have antagonized and alienated large numbers of local Muslims in the restive provinces through heavy-handed anti-terrorism measures, analysts say.

“The militants seek independence and an end to what they see as Thai colonialism. Their insurgency is rooted in ethnic Malay nationalist resistance to Thai rule that followed the extension of Siamese sovereignty over the Patani sultanate at the beginning of the 20th century,” explains Matthew Wheeler, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

In addition to such political grievances, the three Muslim-majority provinces, which border Malaysia, remain among the poorest in Thailand with endemic poverty among villagers.

Making matters worse is that criminal gangs operate with relative impunity in the region, further undermining security efforts.

This story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.