Thai army chief signs intelligence pact with Indonesia

BANGKOK (AP) — An intelligence-sharing agreement signed by the army chiefs of Thailand and Indonesia is unlikely to significantly help Thailand end a separatist insurgency in its deep south, analysts said.

More than 7,000 people have died since the insurgency flared up in 2004.

The pact signed in Indonesia’s Aceh province extended a cooperation agreement launched in 2008. Thai army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong said it increases cooperation in tracking fugitives across borders and provides for the exchange of visits and training.

Apirat said he sought during his visit to understand how Indonesia reached a settlement with insurgents in Aceh province in 2005.

He said he met with the former leaders of the Free Aceh Movement, which fought a bitter war for autonomy for decades.

Thai soldiers examine the wreckage of a personnel carrier that was exploded after suspected insurgents detonated a roadside bomb in Pattani Province, southern Thailand. PHOTO: AP

Indonesia’s peace agreement with the insurgents gave Aceh province a significant amount of autonomy, an approach that Thai authorities have not seriously considered. The insurgency is active in Thailand’s three southern-most provinces.

Indonesian army Chief General Andika Perkasa said Apirat also met the Wali Nanggroe — Aceh’s symbolic head of state — to exchange views that “would be useful to apply in dealing with the insurgency in southern Thailand”.

The director of a think tank monitoring the conflict said the Thai government is still focussing on military approaches to counter the insurgents and is paying less attention to social issues such as poverty and inequality that fuel the insurgency.

Director of Deep South Watch Srisompob Jitpiromsi told The Associated Press that in 2017, Thai authorities began focussing suppression efforts on the most active insurgent group, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) to pressure it to join ongoing peace talks.

Srisompob said he doubted the extension of the pact with Indonesia would help Thai authorities engage with the BRN, which has closer links with Thailand’s southern neighbour, Malaysia.

An independent scholar specialising in the southern insurgency, Rungrawee Chalerm-sripinyorat, said she believes Thailand’s deal with Indonesia could signify that military suppression will remain the dominant mode of conflict management in the deep south.

“Judging from budget allocations, it seems that the government has given little importance to the formal peace dialogue,” she said.

The most recent violence in the conflict occurred last Sunday, when a group of armed men attacked a military outpost in Narathiwat province.

A Thai village defence volunteer and a suspected insurgent were killed during a shootout and 11 other defence volunteers were wounded.