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A new round of Southern peace talks gives hope but the Junta is stalling during the election campaign

The Thaiger

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A new round of Southern peace talks gives hope but the Junta is stalling during the election campaign | The Thaiger
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Peace talks to end the long-running conflict in Thailand’s southernmost provinces hit a stumbling block last week when Thailand’s new peace negotiator failed to attend a scheduled meeting.

The struggle, commonly referred to in international media as the ‘southern insurgency’, has been between Muslim guerilla fighters and the Thai army, partly over borders, and partly fueled by religious and cultural differences.

But analysts remain hopeful that a resolution could still be hammered out and are pinning their hope on Malaysia’s new role in the talks.

The Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamed has openly expressed his commitment to the peace process and appointed the former police chief Abdul Rahim Noor as representative in the talks. Mr Abdul played a role in ending the country’s communist insurgency in 1989.

History

The region, encompassing three provinces, was an independent Muslim sultanate but was formally annexed by Buddhist-majority ‘Siam’ at the turn of the 20th century.

In 2004, the century-long ethnic tensions escalated into a full-blown conflict as a result of long-running centralisation policies, local administrative changes and and Thaksin’s ‘war on drugs’ that targeted the region particularly viciously.

More than 7,000 people have died in the violence over the past 15 years, according to local monitor NGO Deep South Watch.

Current round of talks

Zachary Abuza, a professor specialising in Southeast Asian security at the National War College in Washington DC, says the Malaysian government is interested in the peace talks because “they don’t want instabilities on their borders”.

The Malaysian government also say it’s concerned about the flow of weapons from Thailand over the border after several Islamic State cells were uncovered and dismantled in Malaysia last year.

However, the Thai efforts in peace talks have “never been in good faith”, claims Abuza, pointing to negotiator Udomchai Thammasarorat’s snub of a meeting facilitated by Malaysia with the delegation of the Mara Patani, an umbrella organisation consisting of several separatist groups. Udomchai only showed interest in meeting its leader Sukree Haree.

After the incident, Mara Patani suspended the talks until after Thailand’s March 24 elections and asked for the Thai facilitator to be replaced with a person “with more credibility”.

“Mara Patani sees the attitude of refusal to confront the dialogue team as unacceptable and we suspect a hidden agenda when he only wanted to meet me,” Sukree Haree told Malaysian news agency Bernama.

Abuza claims Thailand’s military government, which seized power in May 2014, would not give Malaysia any substantial role in negotiations.

“They are terrified that this conflict will become an internationalised conflict.”

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Transport

Thailand’s land bridge plan still floating

Maya Taylor

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Thailand’s land bridge plan still floating | The Thaiger
PHOTO: www.skyscrapercity.com

Deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul says the government is still mulling the idea of a land bridge between the southern provinces of Ranong and Chumphon. The project’s aim would be to improve the infrastructure in the region by connecting the Gulf of Thailand directly with the Andaman Sea, “thereby making the Kingdom more competitive”. In a report in the Bangkok Post, she says the idea would be to better connect Middle Eastern and European oil producers with importers and manufacturers in Japan, South Korea and China.

Currently shipping from the two parts of the world needs to detour down the Mallacca Straits and swing around Singapore before continuing their journeys northward again. The land bridge would provide a more direct route but needs infrastructure for cargo to pass across the Malay Peninsula, aka. the Isthmus of Kra.

“Prime Minister Prayut gave us the guideline that we must be prudent and look at financial feasibility, cost-effectiveness, environmental impact and public acceptance. This land bridge project is a strategy to link the Middle East and East Asia via Thailand.”

It’s understood a feasibility study being carried out by the Ministry of Transport will take around a year to complete, followed by 2 more years to get all the necessary approvals and processes lined up prior to construction beginning. The land bridge would consist of a 130 kilometre motorway and a 2-track railway between the provinces of Chumphon and Ranong. These would connect deep-sea ports in both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, reducing travel time by 2 days.

The government is looking at development that can connect the Southern Economic Corridor region, which includes Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani, and Nakhon Si Thammarat, with the Eastern Economic Corridor of Chon Buri and Rayong.

The latest plans replace the much-discussed about Kra Canal project, which would have seen a canal crossing the country just south of Phuket and Krabi, creating a shorter journey time from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. After being discussed for decades, the project has currently been shelved “on environmental grounds”.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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South

Pattani ranger volunteer killed in bomb explosion, 2 others shot in ambush

Caitlin Ashworth

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Pattani ranger volunteer killed in bomb explosion, 2 others shot in ambush | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thaisaeree

A ranger volunteer was killed from a bomb explosion after an ambush in Pattani’s Sai Buri district in Southern Thailand. Gunmen in the ambush shot and injured 2 volunteers.

A team of officers protecting teachers were driving on motorcycles through the district when they were ambushed by gunmen, police say. The alleged gunmen opened fire on the group, shooting 33 year old volunteer Watchara Chaikaew in the cheek and 35 year old volunteer Sutthichai Yawa in the right shin.

The wounded volunteers were admitted to the hospital. The Bangkok Post did not report on their condition.

About 2 hours later, while rangers were combing the site, a ranger volunteer accidently stepped on a bomb that was hidden in the bushes, killing him. 3 other volunteers reported chest pain and ringing ears after the explosion.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thailand

Zoos to be investigated for possible involvement in black market animal trade

Caitlin Ashworth

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Zoos to be investigated for possible involvement in black market animal trade | The Thaiger
PHOTO: js100

Zoos across Thailand will be investigated for possible involvement in the black market wildlife trade. The probe follows a case where 2 rare albino barking deer went missing at Songkhla Zoo and a top zoo official investigating the disappearance was shot and killed at the zoo in an apparent murder-suicide.

After suspicion that the deer were stolen and sold in the illegal wildlife trade, the Zoological Park Organisation of Thailand board set up a panel to investigate zoos nationwide for possible involvement in the trade. The zoos that fall under the organisation’s responsibility are in Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Songkhla, Ubon Ratchathani and Chon Buri.

The panel will determine whether or not illegal wildlife trading and trafficking is happening at the zoos, according to the board chairperson and former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives Chavalit Chookajorn.

Chavalit says the board also wants answers to the disappearances of the 2 albino barking deer at Songkhla Zoo. They went missing in February and September. The latest missing deer is believed to be eaten by a python. The board’s acting director Smitti Darakorn Na Ayudthaya says the deer’s carcass was found in a snake’s stomach.

The organisation’s director, Suriya Saengpong, initially went out to Songkhla Zoo to investigate the 2 disappearances. He was allegedly shot and killed by senior veterinarian Phuwadol Suwanna who later allegedly killed himself. After the fatal shooting, some have cited concerns that the deer may have been stolen and sold in the illegal wildlife trade. The case prompted the prime minister to order the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to investigate.

The Zoological Park Organisation panel plans to look at the current state and numbers of animals at the zoos under their jurisdiction and determine if there are signs of illegal wildlife trading. The system for reporting animal populations at the zoos needs to be updated, Chavalit says, adding that the process is complicated and time consuming. He also says the organisation plans to list zoo’s information on their website with animals’ birth and death dates.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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