Little optimism for breakthrough in Thailand’s forgotten jihad
Rusnee Maeloh slept through the 30-minute gunfight that killed her husband, but her neighbors in the notoriously violent Bacho district of southern Thailand heard distant explosions and feared the worst.
Mahrosu Jantarawadee, 31, was Rusnee’s childhood sweetheart, the father of their two children, and part of a secretive Islamic insurgency fighting a brutal nine-year war with the Thai government that has killed more than 5,300 people.
Mahrosu died with 15 other militants while attacking a nearby military base in Bacho district on February 13. Acting on a tip-off, Thai marines repelled the attack with rifle fire and anti-personnel mines. “He died a martyr,” said Rusnee, 25, dabbing her eyes with a black headscarf.
Just over two weeks later, the Thai government agreed on peace talks in neighboring Malaysia with the insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (National Revolutionary Front, or BRN). Although the first round is set for Thursday, there has been no halt in the fighting and people in the region see no early end to one of Southeast Asia’s bloodiest conflicts.
In a rare interview, an operative for BRN-Coordinate, a faction blamed for most of the southern violence, told Reuters the talks were “meaningless” and “tens of thousands” of Malay-Muslims would fight on.
An older generation of insurgent leaders has struggled to control young jihadis like Mahrosu, said the operative, nicknamed Abdulloh. This raises doubts over the BRN’s ability to meet the Thai government’s key initial demand at the talks: stop the escalating bloodshed.