BANGKOK — Despite the recent coordinated attacks across seven southern provinces, the Royal Thai Army says it is committed to a peace dialogue with the separatist movement thought by many to be behind the attacks.
Stalled peace talks have been blamed by some analysts as a possible motive behind the deadly bombing spree that killed four on Thursday and Friday, the holiday season that marked Her Majesty the Queen’s Birthday and National Mother’s Day.
“I think they want to make news, and they want attention from international communities, so that their demands are accepted,” said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a scholar who runs Deep South Watch, a research group that monitors secessionist violence in the region. “I think they were upset about the peace talk. It had grounded to a halt.”
Srisompob is among experts who believe the most likely culprits are the rebels who are aiming to form an independent state in the Muslim-majority Deep South.
Gen. Aksara Kerdpol, the man appointed by the army as its chief negotiator with the Deep South separatists, disputed that view, saying that talks between both sides have been going on as usual and will continue to take place.
“My team is still talking to them and listening to them,” Gen. Aksara said. “I don’t think there was any need for them to pressure us about it, because we’re already talking with each other all the time. It’s a mission that we will continue to pursue consistently.”
Like other top officials in the military government, Aksara dismissed any link between last week’s bomb attacks with the insurgents in the three southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.
“I don’t want you to conclude this in haste. I want you to wait for the investigation first, because it may affect national security,” the general said.
Were the insurgents behind the attacks, Srisompob believes it wouldn’t shatter the hope of meaningful negotiations. On the contrary, they may even spur the authorities to return to the table, the academic said.
“I’ve heard news that in the last several days, the situation is getting better. I think it’s because of this incident,” Srisompob said. “It was a signal to warn the government that this is a big issue for them … and the government will pay more attention from now on.”
Since the insurrection began in the Deep South in 2004, there was little interest in parley in Bangkok, which prefers heavy-handed policies of troops surges and pacification campaigns. The military engaged in peace talks of its own accord.
Angkhana Neelaphaijit, who’s worked with civil rights groups in the Deep South as a member of the National Human Rights Commission, agreed the army won’t shy away from dialogue in the wake of last week bombings.
However, she warned, not all groups want to talk.
“Some of the [insurgents] don’t agree with Mara Patani, and they don’t support a peace negotiation,” Angkhana said, referring to the umbrella group speaking for the separatists in the talks. “There are many sides, and they don’t have unity.”