BRN demands, but Thais say 'prove you represent' insurgents

Government officials at the second round of peace talks in Kuala Lumpur Monday gave the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist movement one month to prove it represented the southern insurgency groups.

The demand came after the BRN entered the talks in the Malaysian capital determined to stick to their five demands revealed in an unexpected video clip on Sunday that caught the negotiators by surprise.

The demands were rejected by the Thai officials.

Instead, they countered with their own demand that the BRN prove it was representing the southern separatist movement.

They told BRN leader Hassan Taib he would have to do that by reducing the number of violent attacks in the three southern-most provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani. The provinces have suffered an expanded number of deadly bombings and shootings since the negotiations were announced last month to begin moves towards real peace negotiations.

The meeting concluded with an agreement to resume the talks on June 13.

Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanatabut said Thai negotiators would have no objection if BRN representatives wanted to raise the demands at the talks. The BRN issued its demands to Thai authorities via a YouTube video clip on Sunday.

On the demand that Thai authorities must release all detained suspects, he said they would need to have concrete lists or details as the demand was too broad.

"We hope that whoever wins in the May 5 election won't affect the talks," Lt Gen Paradorn said. "Thailand and Malaysia have the same standards and expectations to see the dialogue continue, so we hope and expect for their support," he said.

Opposition and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva earlier said the government should review its stance in the talks with separatist groups, particularly the BRN, which has increased its demands and put the Thai side on the defensive.

He said the BRN seemed to regard the government as being the party in the wrong.

Its demand for Malaysia and international organisations to mediate the talks would only escalate the problems, he said.

Moreover, the BRN had indicated that it would not end the violence in the three southernmost border provinces, to put more pressure on the government.

Therefore, the government should adopt a clear stance on how it intends to handle the issue, and propose clear criteria for the talks.

"What the BRN is doing is that on the one hand it attends the talks, while on the other hand it continues to generate violence," Mr Abhisit said.

He said the government's unclear stance had put NSC chief Paradorn and Southern Border Provinces Administration Organisation (SPBAC) secretary-general Pol Col Thawee Sodsong in a difficult position, allowing the BRN to have the upper hand.

Mr Abhisit said the BRN is trying to raise the problems in the deep South to an international level by increasing the violence to put pressure on the government to yield to its demands.

If the government resorted to harsh retaliation it would become a victim of provocation. If the government did not do anything, the people would be affected. 

The BRN is stepping up the pressure on the government at the talks, the Democrat Party leader said.

Asked to comment on Lt-Gen Paradorn's statement that if problems arose the talks might be suspended, Mr Abhisit said this was an alternative to be decided by the government.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said the Thai delegation led by the NSC chief had no authority to accept the BRN's demands.

Any action to be taken must be discussed first by the committee for implementation of policies and strategies for solving problems in the far South, said Mr Chalerm, who chairs the committee.

Advice from the armed forces was also needed, he added.

Mr Chalerm said the BRN could raise any demands it wishes, but it was up to the Thai side to decide what to do.

On Sunday night, a member of a village defence team was hurt in an armed attack on Buke Bakong School in Narathiwat's Yingo district.

Pol Lt-Gen Vasin Suebsombat, deputy Yingo police chief, said seven people, including assistant teachers and members of the village defence unit, were on security duty in front of a sentry box inside the school when a number of assailants arrived on a pick-up truck.

One of the men in the back seat fired three shots at them with a shotgun. Pellets grazed the ear of Amran Ubong, 21, a security team member. Asaman Chehe, 33, an assistant teacher, hurt his leg when he fell to the ground while running for cover.

A village defence team member was wounded in an attack with this shotgun on Buke Bakong School in Narathiwat province on Sunday night. (Photo by Waedao Harai)

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