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Bomb disposal experts killed as peace talks continue in Thailand’s Deep South

Negotiations in Thailand's deep south
PHOTO: Negotiations continue in Thailand's deep south - Thai PBS

On Friday, an army bomb disposal squad was attacked by a southern insurgent IED while traveling in a four-car convoy with Maj-Gen Paisal Nusang, the deputy commander of the Fourth Army Region in Si Sakhon district of the restive southern province of Narathiwat.

The attack took place as the convoy was about 800 meters from the army outpost, and insurgents hiding in bushes about 100 meters from the road in Ban Ai-Kasae detonated the powerful device buried under the road. The explosion hit the second car, which carried members of the bomb squad, killing two members and injuring another.

The car was equipped with a device to disrupt radio signals, and police sources reported that the improvised explosive device weighed about 50 kilograms and was connected to a wire and detonated using a battery. Reinforcements were sent to a mountain behind Ban Ai-Kasae, where the insurgents were suspected to have fled after the attack.

Meanwhile Gen Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, the Malaysian facilitator for the southern peace dialogue, expressed confidence in the ongoing peace process to resolve the conflict in the region.

He cautioned that a “winner-takes-all” solution to the conflict could not be achieved, and urged all stakeholders to keep an open mind when pursuing the peace process. Gen Zulkifli visited Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, and Songkhla to build confidence in the peace process, meeting with local Muslim and Buddhist communities, academics, non-governmental organisations, and religious leaders.

He also met with representatives of all major separatist groups residing in Malaysia. The peace talks between representatives of the Thai government and the BRN, one of the major secessionist groups, were hosted by Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, and both sides agreed on a roadmap to end violence in southern Thailand.

The roadmap, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan towards Peace (JCPP), sets a two-year time-frame during which both sides will try to reach agreement in three areas: cessation of hostilities, public consultation, and political solutions.

An initial test of what was agreed upon at the negotiating table will be the holy month of Ramadan, during which a cessation of hostilities is supposed to take hold as a testament of sincerity on both sides. Though representatives of the BRN have demonstrated a commitment to peace, there is a question of how much control the BRN leadership has over the armed elements on the ground.

Gen Zulkifli acknowledged that the peace process in Mindanao of the Philippines and Aceh in Indonesia only reaffirmed the challenge. He is a former commander of the Malaysian armed forces and was appointed as the new facilitator by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim early this year.

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