The head of Thailand’s delegation involved in peace talks with southern separatist rebels told BenarNews on Friday that he hoped to resume the Malaysia-facilitated talks in July or August, if the coronavirus pandemic further subsides in the neighboring countries.
Direct negotiations between the Thai government and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebels opened in Kuala Lumpur in January. They held a second meeting in the Malaysian capital in early March, shortly before a full-blown viral outbreak disrupted the talks and led to COVID-19 lockdowns in both countries.
“There would likely be a chance for meeting after COVID subsides. I’m eyeing a meeting in July or August. If the situation eases, there will likely be a new meeting then,” said Gen. Wanlop Rugsanaoh, who last year took on the role as Thailand’s chief negotiator to negotiate an end to the decades-long insurgency in the southern border region.
“During COVID we do not talk. It is inconvenient to travel,” he told BenarNews in a brief phone interview on Friday.
Lately, COVID-19 infections in both countries have tapered off. As of Friday, Malaysia and Thailand had recorded 8,535 and 3,146 cases, respectively, and fewer than 200 deaths from the disease between them. The vast majority of infected people in both countries have since recovered, according to statistics from Malaysian and Thai health authorities.
Since taking over as head of the Thai delegation, Wanlop, working with Abdul Rahim Noor, the Malaysian broker of the peace process, persuaded representatives of the military wing of BRN – the largest and most powerful of southern Thai insurgent groups – to open direct talks with Bangkok.