from Asia Unbound

Talks With Thai Insurgents Stall

October 25, 2013

Thick smoke rises from a burning police truck as rubber farmers clash with riot police in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, south of Bangkok on September 16, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)
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The Thai government recently announced that its peace talks with several representatives of the southern Thai insurgents have been postponed indefinitely. As Anthony Davis notes in an excellent piece on Asia Times, this step was hardly a surprise; since Ramadan, when there was supposed to be a temporary cease-fire, violence has once again surged in the south, while Army Commander in Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered forces in the south to take more aggressive measures. The meaning of the aggressive measures order became clear when Thai forces tracked down and then shot and killed one insurgent commander in early October. In response, over the past two weeks the insurgents have launched a string of attacks. As Davis notes, the insurgents have had little trouble placing bombs right in the middle of key towns in the south, and at major targets that one would think would be better protected.

But this peace process, though laudable in some ways, was probably doomed from the start. The Yingluck government should be applauded for just sitting down with any insurgents, and for broaching topics like offering some degree of autonomy to the southern provinces. On the other hand, it has been clear almost since the beginning of the talks that Thailand’s interlocutors on the insurgent/BRN-C (Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate) side, like BRN-C member Hasan Taib,  have little say over the actions of fighters on the ground. The BRN-C leaders at the peace table could not really even enforce the Ramadan ceasefire, and the Thai government was not committed to the ceasefire either.

Perhaps the end of this round of talks could actually lead to something constructive. As longtime south observer Don Pathan writes, not only does Taib have little credibility, the fact that the Thai government is not outlining credible ways to end the violence on the army/rangers/armed pro-government gangs side, and has used the talks as mostly just “talks about talks,” is not enticing other, more influential leaders than Taib to join the peace talks. The break in talks could be an opportunity for Bangkok to create a new round of negotiations—ones with a clearer endpoint, and with a more tangible set of carrots for insurgents. With a better negotiating process, Bangkok just might lure more powerful insurgents to the table.