Anwar’s maiden visit to Thailand raises hopes for peace
Malaysian chief credited with a profound understanding of southern Thailand
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar’s maiden visit to Thailand this week has raised hopes for peace in the troubled south.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia last year. The visit is expected to add momentum to the peace dialogue.
Malaysia is the facilitator for the dialogue to end decades of conflict in Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla, and Yala. Anwar is credited with a more profound understanding of southern Thailand than his predecessors.
As Malaysia emerges from the crisis, Anwar’s maiden visit to Thailand might throw up some fresh policies, which may include more serious involvement in fixing southern Thailand, Bangkok Post reported.
Low-level separatist violence escalated after 2001, breaking out in earnest in 2004. In July 2005, then-PM Thaksin Shinawatra assumed wide-ranging powers to deal with the violence. But the insurgency escalated.
But by the end of 2010 violence had increased significantly. In March 2011, the government conceded that violence was increasing and could not be solved in a few months. The unrelenting cycle of violence since 2004 in PNarathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla, and Yala has claimed more than 7,000 lives.
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. Former chief of defence forces Tan Sri Zulkifli Zainal Abidin has been appointed as the new chief facilitator effective Jan 1, 2023.
Meanwhile, former international relations lecturer at Chulalongkorn University Panitan Wattanayagorn said the probability of peace talks bearing fruit is high.
“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 the BRN. In the broad picture, there are high hopes for the peace talks, although they come with a degree of caution to avoid any disappointment.”
Coordinator of civil society organisations in the border areas Mansor Salae said Anwar’s maiden visit to Thailand could be instrumental in making headway in the 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.”
Bangkok Post reports that Zulkifli will hold discussions with General Wanlop who headed the Peace Dialogue Panel for the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand on February 28. Talks between the government and rebels that began in 2013 stalled following the military coup a year later. Negotiations resumed in 2019 with concrete and significant progress being made.
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