BANGKOK — The government and a militant group behind separatist campaigns in the southern border provinces on Friday said peace dialogues between them have moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Both the government’s negotiation team and the National Revolutionary Front, or BRN, confirmed in separate statements that the online meetings took place on Wednesday. Topics of the discussions were said to include a deescalation of armed operations, and peaceful resolution to the bloody conflict in the region, known as the Deep South.
“The resumption of the peace dialogue process is the mutual efforts and commitment between the two sides to seek peaceful solutions and ensure continuity of the process,” part of the English-language statement released by the government said.
“The atmosphere of the meeting was constructive where both sides agreed to hold virtual meeting on a regular basis in the future which will foster cooperation and contribute to sustainable solutions for the south border provinces.”
A statement issued by the BRN gave a somewhat more detailed account of the conversation. The group said the two sides discussed “reduction in military operations” and “political and peaceful solutions to the conflict in Patani in order to realise people’s aspiration and global human rights principles.”
Patani is the name of an independent state that existed for centuries in what are today the provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. The sultanate was annexed by the Thai authorities in the early 20th century.
“Both sides agreed to have online technical meetings periodically under the pandemic of Covid-19, following the norms that had been previously agreed,” the group said, according to a translation provided by a prominent Deep South scholar.
“BRN hopes that this round of the negotiation shall be supported by all layers of the society and it would proceed smoothly.”
The coronavirus outbreaks in Thailand and Malaysia have led to border shutdowns and severe disruption of travels between the two countries.
The pandemic also had a paradoxical impact on the secessionist violence in the Deep South. It prompted the BRN to declare a “cessation of all operations” in the region on humanitarian grounds, while the death tolls and injuries linked to the separatist campaign throughout 2020 were remarkably lower than the previous years.
The conflict, fueled by ethnic and religious enmity, has killed at least 7,000 people since it broke out in 2004, according to human rights watchdogs. Most of the victims were civilians, though security officers were also routinely targeted.
Just last week, on Saturday, five policemen were injured when a bomb went off on their patrol route in Narathiwat province. Investigators blame local separatist militants for the attack.