Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday began a two-day visit to Thailand during which he is expected to discuss peace talks in Thailand’s southern border provinces where a Muslim separatist insurgency has been raging for over a decade.
Malaysia has been a facilitator between rebel groups and the Thai government but so far little progress has been made. Almost 7,000 people have died in the insurgency in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces since 2004.
Don Pathan, a security analyst based in southern Thailand, said Malaysia has to be part of the dialogue because it has a stake in the border violence and most residents in the region identify as Malay Muslims. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist.
But time is running out for both Mahathir and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to reach a breakthrough in the negotiations with the rebels, Don said. Mahathir is expected to hand over power to his designated successor, Anwar Ibrahim, in less than two years, and Prayuth’s military-led government has promised to hold elections early next year.
“And this wave of conflict has been going on for the past 14 years. What can they do in 18 months?” Don said.
Thailand and Malaysia have each named their own facilitators for the talks who are both high-ranking security officials, but Don said both men are political appointees who will be relieved once their governments undergo administrative changes.
Mahathir was to meet Prayuth later Wednesday at the Government House in Bangkok.
Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the visit is expected to add momentum to the southern Thailand peace process.