Sapae-ing death leaves peace talks uncertain
Analysis: Authorities anxious about unrest spiralling in southern provinces
Security authorities have expressed concern over the change of leadership in the separatist movement following the death of Sapae-ing Basor, saying it may throw a spanner into the government's peace-building efforts and worsen unrest.
The death of Sapae-ing, who led the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) Coordinate, was confirmed last Saturday by his family. He died on Jan 10 in Malaysia's Terengganu state.
Up to 100,000 people took part in the funeral prayers which were held at Thamavitya Mulniti School in Yala on Monday and at a mosque in Pattani's Yarang district. The participants included former and current students and teachers of Thamavitya Mulniti where Sapae-ing once served as principal.
According to security sources, southern separatists are using Sapae-ing's death to incite hatred against the authorities, by blaming the government for making him live in exile until his death.
Sapae-ing had been hunted by the authorities since 2004 over his suspected involvement in a series of violent incidents in Narathiwat.
Dozens of militants raided a military camp in the province's Cho Airong district, killing four soldiers and stealing around 100 M-16 rifles. At the same time, 20 schools in 10 districts in the province were torched.
In late 2004, four key figures in the BRN were arrested in connection with the Narathiwat events, while Sapae-ing reportedly fled to Malaysia.
Allegations that he was behind the torching of 36 schools in the deep South in 1993 also emerged.
It is widely speculated that Abdulloh Waemanor, who heads the BRN's armed wing, may succeed him and that this could hinder peace talks.
According to another security source, intelligence analysts have assessed the situation and predicted that Abdulloh is likely to succeed Sapae-ing.
"We're concerned the new leader will be prone to violence. So far he has not been in favour of the peace process. Violence in the region is going on unabated despite peace efforts," said the source.
Following the death of Sapae-ing, Panu Uthairat, secretary of the special government delegation to the deep South, said he was informed by Gen Sakol Chuentrakul, adviser to the prime minister, that Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha had extended his condolences to Sapae-ing's family.
The prime minister also instructed the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 4 and the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) to ensure those attending the funeral prayers met with no hindrance.
The government's move is said to have puzzled the public because Sapae-ing was a fugitive wanted in connection with violence attacks in the South.
The source said security authorities had contacted Sapae-ing over the years to urge him to turn himself in to police but he had refused.
After Gen Prayut came to power, security agencies also urged Sapae-ing to surrender to authorities via his family members and close aides.
In July last year, Sapae-ing's close aides informed security authorities that the late BRN leader welcomed the junta government's approach to resolving the southern unrest and he was ready to support government peace-building efforts.
When Sapae-ing fell ill, Thai authorities asked him to return and receive medical treatment in Thailand. However, those who disagreed with the peace efforts allegedly tried to prevent state officials from contacting him.
Gen Prayut instructed local agencies to reach out to Sapae-ing's relatives in Yala and convey a message of condolence. He also ordered them to promote understanding with local people.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said security authorities are assessing the situation following Sapae-ing's death.
He dismissed reports about Abdulloh's rise to the leadership, saying it is still speculation. But the defence minister said the choice of Abdulloh as the new leader will be "interesting".
Abdulloh is a former principal of a ponoh school whose assets were seized by the Justice Ministry and the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) for being involved in violent attacks.
The school in question was closed down in 2005 after southern violence erupted in 2004. Abdulloh is one of those facing an arrest warrant in connection with an armed robbery.
Security authorities believe he is a top member of the BRN's armed wing, lives in Malaysia and does not favour peace talks.
Meanwhile, Salman Baso, a son of Sapae-ing, urged the media not to call his father a BRN leader, saying it is not true.
He also stated the southern unrest cannot be resolved if state authorities continue to believe that Sapae-ing was its leader.