Udomchai heads southern peace talks

Udomchai heads southern peace talks

Suspected insurgents shoot 3 border officers

Lt Gen Udomchai Thammasaroraj, recently retired head of the 4th Army Region, has been appointed as chief peace negotiator in the deep South after four years of futile talks with the Malaysian Mara Patani group. (File photo by Weerawong Wongpreedee)
Lt Gen Udomchai Thammasaroraj, recently retired head of the 4th Army Region, has been appointed as chief peace negotiator in the deep South after four years of futile talks with the Malaysian Mara Patani group. (File photo by Weerawong Wongpreedee)

Former 4th Army commander Udomchai Thammasaroraj has been appointed as the new chief of the Thai negotiation team in peace talks with the Mara Patani, an umbrella organisation of insurgent groups in the South, a source says.

He has replaced Gen Aksara Kerdphol who has led the peace negotiation team for more than four years. The appointment was approved at a Thursday meeting of a steering committee overseeing policy and strategies for resolving the unrest in the southernmost provinces, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.

Final endorsement for the appointment will be sought from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the cabinet shortly, the source said.

Currently, Gen Udomchai sits on a government special delegation to end the southern unrest. He also serves as an adviser to Lt Gen Pornsak Poonsawat, the new chief of the 4th Army Region who took up the post early this month.

Gen Wanlop Rugsanaoh, secretary-general of the National Security Council, said the meeting was informed of the operations of the government special delegation during the past year. It also acknowledged the establishment of a centre to manage education in the three southern provinces. The centre is responsible for implementing measures to upgrade education, and improve the quality of educational personnel in the region.

Participants at the meeting were briefed about the progress in the construction of a new airport in Betong district of Yala, that is scheduled to open in early 2020, Gen Wanlop added.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is reportedly scheduled to hold talks with his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad about the future of southern peace talks when they meet late this month.

Gen Prayut previously said that Malaysia will continue supporting and serving as a facilitator for dialogue between Thai authorities and insurgent groups. A source said Thai officials working in the restive southern border provinces were watching to see whether Malaysia's approach might change under its new leader.

The officials are also wondering if Mara Patani might also change the members of its negotiating team, according to the source. Dr Mahathir, 93, a former Malaysian prime minister and former opposition leader, was sworn in as the world's oldest elected leader on May 10 after a stunning election win that swept Malaysia's Barisan National coalition from power after more than six decades.

Meanwhile, three border patrol police officers were wounded by gunshots in an ambush in Narathiwat's Rueso district Thursday.

Shots were fired from roadside shrubbery in Manang Panyang village of tambon Samakkhi when three officers from Udon Thani were on their way back in a pickup truck to their base in another southern village after reporting for duty at Rueso police station.

Forensic experts were later called in to gather evidence and found more than 20 spent bullet shells at the scene. The truck was also riddled with bullets. Authorities believed the attack was the work of insurgents.


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