Decision of Malay separatist alliance to withdraw from peace talks will encourage more frequent rebel attacks ahead of elections.
No progress will occur at negotiations until new government is formed after polls.
Attacks will largely be directed at security forces, though groups will also seek to disrupt tourism industry without causing significant casualties.
Mara Patani, an umbrella alliance representing several Malay separatist rebel groups, said on 6 February that it will suspend its involvement in peace talks until an elected government takes office in May. The announcement followed a visit by Thailand’s chief negotiator, General Udomchai Thamsarorat, to Kuala Lumpur on 4 February, where he failed to show up to a meeting with the alliance. Udomchai claimed he had not intended to attend the talks, but Mara Patani has accused him of being dismissive towards it and demanded that the Government replace him.
Thailand’s Deep South has seen a significant increase in violence since late last year, following a record low in 2017. The main group responsible, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), which is not formally part of Mara Patani, last month appointed Kho Zari as its new leader. Kho is more hostile to talks with Bangkok than his predecessor, who had begun to prepare with Malaysian officials for negotiations. This stalemate will likely have prompted the more moderate Mara Patani to harden its stance, so as to maintain relevance and local support. Moreover, the alliance will have likely sought to undermine the Government’s claims that it has made progress at the negotiations, in a bid to weaken the military-backed Palang Pracharat Party in the 24 March general elections. No progress at the peace talks is therefore likely until a new administration is in place following the polls.
BRN will seek to exploit the heightened tensions between Mara Patani and Bangkok, while Kho in particular will want to secure his support within the group. The current heightened tempo of BRN attacks is therefore likely to persist in the coming weeks. These will largely involve shootings and bombings directed at security personnel, though occasional strikes intended to disrupt the local tourism industry, albeit without causing significant casualties, are also likely.