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Malaysia and Thailand desperately seeking success against insurgency

By Murray Hunter - posted Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The role of Malaysia will be interesting. The Federal Government wants peace along the border and there are actually great trade advantages to a peaceful south through the IMT-GT. The Malaysian military and police are generally cooperative with the Thai authorities over border security issues and established good relationships. However some insurgents within the Deep South are also Malaysian citizens, or at least have very close Malaysian relatives, and to some degree integrated within the "pondok communities" within Kelantan.

Perhaps Malaysia's prime role will be just acting as a chairman to these meetings to maintain negotiations, rather than acting more proactively in suggesting solutions. The true value of the Malaysian role will therefore be just to hold the process together, which may not be an easy task, given the emotional issues involved. Further, Malaysia may find it difficult in gaining the trust and confidence of the insurgents. Negotiators from the Petani Malay Liberation Movement were once betrayed by Malaysian authorities during negotiations in the late 1990s where they were arrested, deported back to Thailand and still remain in prison today.

Any success will depend upon there not being any hidden agendas between the 2+1 parties during these talks. With the complexities of Thai politics, the military, the various insurgency groups and their splinters, and Malaysian politics, particularly related to the constituency of Kelantan, this could be a tall order. However there is also the hope that all sides are tired and through this process, there can be reaching out to other insurgency groups. Much of this will personally depend upon the skills and attitude taken by Panradom Pattanathabur and the reception he gets from members of the BRN delegation. The other question here is who does Hassan Taib actually represent within the BRN which has a number of splinter groups? Even if Hassan is speaking for a wide series of groups, every point of negotiations would have to be discussed in community Syura in every province to obtain any consensus, which could be daunting.


In addition, many "insurgency" groups are not really formal organizations. Leadership is "ad hoc", objectives and aspirations wide and varied between groups, and any action taken is often on a very spasmodic basis. These groups form and disband periodically and take action completely independently. Many operate so discretely that other groups don't even know who their members really are. This makes it very difficult for anybody to speak on behalf of the majority of groups involved in this conflict.

One must remember this is not the first time peace talks have been attempted with many different moderators including former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed in the Langkawi talks a few years ago, and later with former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra where both went nowhere.

One aspect that has not been tackled by both governments in this agreement is the role drug traffickers, bandits, gangsters, and other criminal elements are playing in this insurgency problem. It is in their interest to have turmoil in the Deep South so they can carry out their trade. Some violent events are deliberately set as "false flag" which makes understanding of the deep south even more complicated. In addition there is a murky Indonesian link to some groups that is far from understood. These groups are part of the problem and they need to be dealt with in any process for it to be a success.

The first meeting is scheduled to be held in Malaysia within the next two weeks, and every fortnight afterwards. It would be surprising if much information about these talks actually leaks out. However the meeting itself is something positive and who actually turns up to these meetings from the insurgents side will be very telling of eventual success of this process.

What is sure, the violence will not stop immediately, but the immediate level of violence may indicate how seriously various groups look at this upcoming process of negotiation. The Yingluck Government has given some authority to the military to negotiate, who may take a more hardline than the government would. However from the Thai point of view some process is going on which is better than no process. The agreement to the Malaysian Government as the moderator is a redeeming event in foreign policy for the Najib Government. The BN will be hoping that this may provide some positive mileage among the rural Malays of Kelantan, who they need to win over if any positive electoral.

Meanwhile the people of the Deep South will continue to go about their daily lives with extreme caution, as there has been no let up in the violence since the signing last Thursday.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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