KUALA LUMPUR - The national security chief signed a peace agreement with the insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) on Thursday just ahead of an official visit to Malaysia by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
It is the first formal engagement between the government and insurgents.
National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabutr said the BRN is a group that Malaysia believes operates in the deep South.
"It's another attempt by the government to tackle the unrest. It does not mean the peace agreement will end the ongoing violence."
The BRN official was identified as Hassan Taib, "chief of the BRN liaison office in Malaysia". Barisan Revolusi Nasional in Bahasa Malaysia means "National Revolutionary Front". It refers to the separatists' concept that the three southernmost provinces and part of Songkhla represent a distinct nation.
Secretary-General of Thailand's National Security Council, Paradorn Pattanathabutr, seated left, and chief of Thailand's National Revolution Front (BRN) liaison office in Malaysia, Hassan Taib (seated right), attend the signing ceremony of the general consensus document to launch a dialogue process for peace in the southern border provinces of Thailand, in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. (Reuters Photo)
The text of the agreement was not revealed, but Mr Hassan spoke briefly with reporters called in to cover the event.
"Allah willing, we will do our best to solve the problem. We will tell our people to work together to solve the problems," he said.
The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) was formed around 1960, and has used this flag as its symbol.
Lt Gen Paradorn, speaking on Wednesday evening ahead of the formal agreement, said, "While I can't guarantee the agreement will succeed, it must be better than letting the South burn on like this."
He said the agreement was a result of the Thai-Malaysian Peace Dialogue signed after Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung met Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in the Malaysian capital recently.
Before the signing, a military source in Bangkok cautioned that while the BRN operates in the deep South, it does not control all militant cells, especially those at the operating level who still do not want to negotiate.
The national security chief also said the government is expected to hold talks with other southern insurgent leaders after Ms Yingluck comes back from Malaysia.
Lt Gen Paradorn was in Malaysia Wednesday to prepare the ground for Prime Minister Yingluck's visit Thursday.
Ms Yingluck is scheduled to attend the Thailand-Malaysia annual consultation in Putrajaya and hold talks with Mr Najib on Thailand's request for Malaysia to help arrange for discussions with insurgents in the deep South.
Lt Gen Paradorn said before leaving Bangkok Wednesday that several rebel leaders had approached him for talks.
"I am verifying whether they are indeed based in Malaysia and whether talks are possible before I proceed and ask Kuala Lumpur for cooperation. We estimate there are fewer than 1,000 insurgency sympathisers in Malaysia," Lt Gen Paradorn said.
The army has estimated that about 9,000 militants are active in the deep South.
Lt Gen Paradorn said Mr Najib wanted to establish anti-insurgency cooperation not only with Thailand but with other countries in Asia as well.
The NSC chief is expected to sign an accord with his Malaysian counterpart that says the security chiefs will cooperate to tackle the insurgency.
He said the formal collaboration will allow authorities to monitor new areas and give the insurgents nowhere to turn but the negotiating table."The condition for the talks is that seceding is off the agenda. It's against our constitution," Lt Gen Paradorn said.
If the issue of allowing a special administrative zone comes up, the NSC will look into details and see if it contravenes the charter, he said.
"The talks will let us know what they think and want so that we can design some solutions.
"Everything will be based on the rule of law and the constitution," Lt Gen Paradorn said.
Security officials earlier voiced concern over Ms Yingluck's attempt to forge such a formalised "peace talk".
They said the government would be boosting the status of the insurgents if they enter into formal negotiations while weakening its own position.
Lt Gen Paradorn said asking for help from Malaysia does not mean Thailand is upgrading its domestic problem to the international level.
Prime Minister Yingluck Wednesday denied reports that her government planned to appoint former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh as a security adviser.
Ms Yingluck said Gen Chavalit had experience in dealing with the southernmost provinces but she has not had any discussions with him.
Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat, who will accompany Ms Yingluck to Malaysia, said peace talks would be better than no talks at all.
"Any method or approach that will improve the situation in the South will be considered a good one. Negotiation is one option. It's nothing outrageous. How the discussion is arranged, whether we should have asked Malaysia to act as a facilitator, is a matter of detail," ACM Sukumpol said.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government should exercise extreme caution before it enters into a formal agreement with any party.
"What is the role of Malaysia in this agreement? The government should be very careful because this is a very sensitive issue," Mr Abhisit said.
Meanwhile, in Narathiwat, two power poles on the Narathiwat-Pattani highway in Yi-ngo district were brought down by blasts late on Tuesday night. No one was hurt. Yingor police chief Pol Col Suthon Sukviseth said a 5kg improvised bomb was attached to each pole and then remotely detonated.
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Writer: Wassana Nanuam & Achara Ashayagachat