Bangkok: Rebels in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south called Tuesday for the army to return to their bases over Ramadan in exchange for a ceasefire during the holy month, a condition swiftly rejected by the kingdom’s government.
More than 5,500 people have died in the near decade-long insurgency in Thailand’s south but optimism for peace has flickered recently after talks between authorities and some rebel groups including the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).
Near-daily attacks on security forces and civilians have continued despite the talks.
Listing conditions for a Ramadan ceasefire, a breakthrough trailed after the last round of talks on June 14, a BRN spokesman said the group would “stop” its operations if Thailand meets demands including pulling security forces back from villages to their bases.
The Thai army must leave “the villages and go back to their camps”, the BRN’s Hassan Taib said in a video posted on YouTube, also calling for a suspension of “ambushes, road blocks or arrests” in Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani provinces which border Malaysia.
Thailand must announce its official response to the demands by July 3, he said.
“From our side, the BRN will not only reduce but stop any (violent) action. This is to give respect to Muslims during Ramadan,” Taib added.
Ramadan starts around the first week of July.
The demands were given short shrift by Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung who said “there was no way” the government would concede to pulling security forces back to their bases.
“It’s the government’s right not to accept these demands,” said Chalerm, who oversees Bangkok’s response to the southern unrest, casting doubt on the BRN’s capacity to curb the violence.
“The BRN cannot control their people,” he added. “I don’t believe that violence will decrease - we have to have our own (security) measures.”
Thailand’s National Security Council chief and lead peace negotiator Paradorn Pattanatabut, said he would wait for the BRN’s demands to be delivered officially through talks facilitator Malaysia before making a judgement.
But he said Thailand had to respond the demands of the south’s people and “not one particular group.”
Talks started in March with the BRN, who are held responsible for much of the grinding violence which has killed more civilians than soldiers.
Since then, the once reclusive group has made a series of public demands, including for separation from the kingdom of Thailand, which annexed the south more than a century ago.
Thai negotiators have raised the idea of creating some form of locally elected administration in the region, but full autonomy for the south remains taboo as the constitution insists the Buddhist-majority kingdom must not be divided.