Thailand’s National Security Council secretary-general, General Wallop Raksanoh, will formally assume the role of the government’s chief of delegation in peace talks with Mara Pattani, an umbrella group of southern rebel factions.
General Wallop will replace Gen Udomchai Thammasarote, an advisor to the Royal Thai Army and former commander of the south-based Fourth Army Region.
Mara Pattani withdrew from the peace process ahead of the March 24th general election after Gen Udomchai failed to show up for a February meeting in Kuala Lumpur, which had been facilitated by Malaysia.
Even before the collapse of dialogue earlier this year, the peace process was fractured. Little progress had been made in four years of sporadic talks.
The election of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last year injected some new momentum into the talks and, after Mahathir met his Thai counterpart General Prayut Chan-o-cha in Bangkok, both countries agreed to appoint new peace envoys, with Malaysia serving as a third party facilitator.
Malaysian mediator Mohammad Noor paid a four-day visit to southern Thailand in early June, where he held meetings with religious leaders and the commander of the Fourth Army Region, Lt-Gen Pornsak Poonsawat. Noor returned to KL optimistic, suggesting that formal dialogue could soon resume in Penang, but without setting a date.
Regarding the appointment of General Wallop, former NSC chief Lt-Gen Paradorn Patthanathabutr, who has also headed the peace dialogue, noted that trust building is the most important element in the peace process with Mara Pattani.
He said that there had been almost no progress in the peace talks in the past five years under the NCPO’s rule in Thailand, and he doubted that the elected government with the same prime minister would inspire trust within the rebel factions.
Former secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre, which oversees non-military affairs in Thailand’s Deep South, Pol Col Thawee Sodsong, also stressed the importance of mutual trust to ensure productive peace talks.