Southern Thai rebels suspend KL peace talks

Shukri Hari (centre) with fellow representatives of Mara Patani in this picture taken last year. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Rebel southern Thai group Majlis Syura Patani (Mara Patani) has suspended its peace negotiations with Bangkok, saying it was disappointed with the Thai government’s attitude.

Its head of dialogue panel, Shukri Hari, said talks would be suspended until after the March general election.

He said the group was disappointed with the absence of the head of the Thai peace panel Gen Udomchai Thammasarorat.

“Both Mara Patani and the Thai dialogue teams arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 2 for the introductory meeting. However, we were informed that General Udomchai would not attend the meeting. He would only meet me personally and separately.

“We are disappointed with General Udomchai’s attitude which contradicts his earlier statement that he would hold the dialogue and respect all groups and stakeholders,” he said in a statement.

Shukri said Udomchai’s refusal to confront the group’s dialogue panel was unacceptable, and said his group suspected “a hidden agenda”.

He also urged Bangkok to replace Udomchai with someone “more credible” in order to find solutions to the long-running conflict in Pattani.

Udomchai was recently appointed by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to spearhead the southern Thai peace talks, replacing longtime negotiator Gen Aksara Kerdphol.

The introductory meeting, which was supposed to take place today, was arranged by the new Malaysian facilitator to the peace talks, former inspector-general of police Abdul Rahim Noor.

Mara Patani also did not attend today’s introductory meeting, which, if realised as scheduled, would signify their first official meeting after several months.

The group is an umbrella body representing several southern Thai groups.

Since it erupted in 2004, the conflict in the four southern Thai provinces namely Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkla, has claimed more than 6,500 lives.