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A Malaysian news website reports that the Thai state authorities and Deep South insurgent groups are getting closer towards formal peace talks. 

Malaysiakini on Tuesday, 9 February 2016, reported that the peace negotiations between MARA Patani, an umbrella organisation of insurgent groups in Thailand’s Deep South, and the Thai state have shown progress.

“There is definitely progress in the exploratory talks and confidence-building measures and we expect an official meeting will be held soon," according to a source from MARA Patani who was interviewed by Bernama, a Malaysian government news agency, and quoted by Malaysiakini.

The MARA Patani source chose not to disclose his identity.

He told the Malaysian media that the latest meeting between the two parties was on the Terms of References (TOR) before the formal peace negotiations could start.

"About 80 to 90 per cent of the TOR have been achieved except for the endorsement of the steering committees on both sides," the source told Bernama.

At the same time, Lt Gen Nakrob Bunbuathong, a key member of the Thai negotiating team, said the two parties still have not agreed on two key issues over the TOR, but declined to comment further, Bernama reported.

“We will sign the TOR after we have agreed on the two issues. After that the talks between the parties will become official," Malaysiakini quoted Lt Gen Nakrob as telling Bernama.

Lt Gen Nakrob added that they were expected to meet Mara Patani in May and that the key issues in the TOR which have not yet been agreed by the Thai state are still being deliberated by the steering committee and would be forwarded to Malaysia, which serves as the facilitator, once Bangkok reaches a decision.

The Malaysian government media reported further that the MARA Patani source declined to divulge the contents of the TOR because it was still not finalised but confirmed that three early proposals submitted by MARA Patani were in it and had been discussed.

Similarly, many Thai media reported that the Thai state authorities and MARA Patani are getting closer towards signing the TOR and starting formal Deep South peace negotiations.

Negotiations between the Thai state and liberation movement in Patani or Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, namely Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat and four provinces of Songkla, have been proceeding for more than a decade, although in secret. Analysts say that the Thai state has never been sincere nor serious about negotiations, only viewing them as opportunities to identify core members of the insurgent groups. The first open negotiation “Dialogue 1” was between Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration and BRN, the movement with the most manpower in the field, in 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, with Malaysia acted as a facilitator. However, Dialogue 1 were ended abruptly after the Yingluck administration was overthrown. The military coup in May 2014 that installed a junta led by Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha has started Dialogue 2, with its first informal talk in June 2015. The liberation groups has established MARA Patani as an umbrella organization for the talk. MARA has proposed three proposals to the Thai junta as prerequisite for a formal, official talk. 
BRN’s 5 preliminary demands during Dialogue 1:
  1. Malaysia must be a mediator in the peace talks, not just a facilitator.
  2. The Thai state must recognize the talks as being between Malays in Patani, led by BRN, and the Thai state. 
  3. This negotiation must be witnessed by representatives of the ASEAN countries, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and NGOs.
  4. The Thai state must release all insurgent suspects and inmates, and cancel all arrest warrants without condition.
  5. The Thai state must recognize BRN as an independence movement, not a separatist one. 
MARA’s 3 proposals during Dialogue 2:
  1. Recognize MARA Patani as an official dialogue partner
  2. Place the peace talks as an issue of national importance endorsed by the Thai Parliament, so that future administrations must continue to work on it.
  3. Impunity for MARA members, so that they can enter Thailand and converse with citizens.
MARA includes delegates from organizations such as Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), Patani Liberation Organization (PULO), Barisan Islam Perbersasan Patani (BIPP), and Gerekan Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP). The BRN representatives of MARA refused to answer press questions on whether BRN’s involvement in MARA was mandated or not. However, they did comment that they were the “real BRN.” 
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