Ramadan truce agreed in South

Both sides in Malaysia-mediated peace talks hope gesture will lead to more progress

Malaysian Islamic Authority officials use a theodolite to perform rukyah, the sighting of the new moon, which signals the start of Ramadan, on Friday evening in Kuala Lumpur. Peace talks between the Thai government and southern insurgents have been taking place in the Malaysian capital this week. (Reuters Photo)

KUALA LUMPUR: The Thai government and southern separatist insurgents agreed on Friday to a truce during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, in what they hope could lead to a more lasting solution.

“Both main parties agreed to stop violent activities throughout the month of Ramadan from April 3 to May 14,” said Anas Abdulrahman, who leads the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) delegation to peace talks that have been taking place in the Malaysian capital.

The agreement is a “confidence-building measure” to pave the way for a concrete peace deal, he said at a news conference after the fourth round of negotiations.

His remarks followed two days of face-to-face talks at a hotel on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, with the Thai delegation led by Gen Wanlop Rugsanaoh. The latest round of talks was facilitated by Abdul Rahim Noor, Malaysia’s former federal police chief.

The parties last met in January, when they proposed to form a joint working group to flesh out the broad terms they have agreed on.

In a separate news conference, Rahim said the Thai government agreed it would not conduct any raids or carry out any arrests during Ramadan.

The two sides also discussed a mechanism to allow BRN members residing in Malaysia to return to Thailand and visit their families without fear of arrest.

According to Rahim, the government had agreed in principle to the group’s request on condition that returning members report to the Thai authorities.

During the meeting, both sides formalised their agreement with an exchange of signed documents on the basis of three key principles of reduction of violence, public consultation and political solution.

Three people from either side will be acting as liaisons for each of the three principles, according to the negotiators.

No date has been fixed for the next round of talks.

Separatist activity has existed in Muslim-majority southern border provinces for decades but the insurgency turned increasingly violent beginning in 2004 and has since claimed at least 7,000 lives.

The BRN is just one of several ethnic Malay rebel groups fighting for either an independent country or more autonomous Muslim entity in the region bordering Malaysia.

The Thai government had held talks before in 2015 with the Patani Consultative Council, also known as Mara Patani.

But negotiations were suspended in early 2019 and the government decided to engage instead with the BRN, the largest and most powerful among the insurgent groups in the restive Deep South.