Analysts: New Peace Efforts in Thailand’s Deep South on Positive Track

By Nasueroh and Natalie Sisutcharit
2015.08.28
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150828-TH-kerdpol-620 Gen. Aksara Kerdpol, head of the Thai negotiating team in closed-door talks with southern rebels, speaks to reporters at Royal Thai Army headquarters in Bangkok, Aug. 28, 2015.
BenarNews

This week’s closed-door meeting in Malaysia between a Thai governmental delegation and a group representing various southern rebel groups could mark a new beginning toward resuming formal talks aimed at ending an insurgency, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives since 2004, analysts said Friday.

They are particularly optimistic about the latest efforts because of how negotiators from the rebel side appeared before the public for the first time afterward. In their view, this shows a willingness to find a lasting solution to the separatist conflict in Thailand’s Deep South region.

“Some of the representatives here were also involved in the peace dialogue during the Yingluck [Shinawatra] government in 2013 but, at that time, they did not open themselves to the media,” analyst Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat told BenarNews.

“This indicates there is room for negotiation as it means that [MARA Patani] will be accountable to the people as they have been publicly identified,” said Rungrawee, a former Associated Press reporter and analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO engaged in conflict prevention and resolution worldwide.

She was referring to southern rebel leaders who had introduced themselves publicly in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday as representatives of MARA Patani, a new umbrella body negotiating on behalf of various rebel groups in talks with the Thai government.

“However, the Thai government will have to be ready to discuss the issue of self-governance and the restructuring of power-sharing between Bangkok and Patani. Otherwise, the process will be useless,” Rungrawee added.

‘Real deal’

Among the members of the rebel delegation to whom Rungrawee alluded was Sukree Haree, MARA Patani’s chief negotiator who is a senior leader of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebel group.

He had been part of a negotiating team in the last round of official talks with the government, which stalled in December 2013, but this member of a younger generation of insurgents had not revealed himself in public then, Rungrawee noted.

Sukree is the “real deal,” according to Srisomphob Chitpiromsri, director of Deep South Watch, an NGO based in Pattani province that promotes dialogue and efforts to end the separatist conflict in the region.

“There might be skepticism about whether they are real representatives of resistant groups, especially from BRN. But there are four BRN members who appeared on the MARA Patani panel. It is a confirmation that BRN accepts and sees the benefits of the talks,” Srisomphob said in an interview with Deep South Watch staffers, which was published Friday on the NGO’s website.

“In the short term, we won’t see a clear picture of the struggle, but this may be a watershed,” he said. “For instance, (secret) meetings before Ramadan yielded less violence. It reflects both sides’ efforts, when at the table, that they really want to jointly solve the problems.”

Srisomphob added: “I believe the violence will wane after sometime. But then again, we can’t pin hope on that because there are still some elements who disagree with the talk.”

Kuala Lumpur developments

During a one-day meeting brokered by the Malaysian government, a Thai delegation headed by Gen. Aksara Kerdpol convened on Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur with MARA Patani to hash out conditions for a formal resumption of peace talks.

Two days later, members of the rebel delegation introduced themselves to reporters and briefed the media about Tuesday’s meeting.

MARA Patani Chairman Awang Jabat said then that independence remained the rebel side’s primary goal in the negotiations, but they were open to other ways to settle the long-running conflict.

“MARA Patani stresses, whether the agenda of an independent state can be achieved, can only be decided by the Malay Muslims of Southern Thailand … only they can decide whether they want to be independent, an autonomous region or live under the existing government,” Awang told reporters.

Thai negotiator comments

Among their conditions, the rebels demanded that the Thai government place the Deep South peace process on its national agenda; recognize MARA Patani as a legitimate negotiating body, and guarantee immunity for its negotiators.

In Bangkok on Friday, General Aksara talked to reporters about the meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

“We are looking for cooperation from dissident groups. They always proclaimed themselves the representative of people in the Deep South. If so true, please cooperate with us,” he told reporters.

“Tell the public we want things to go this way and the people will express the truth, if that is what they want.”

The Thai government was exploring the rebel demand of immunity being given to MARA Patani negotiators, because this was a legal matter that needed to go through various governmental agencies, he added. An inter-agency working group would be set up to study this issue, Aksara said.

‘Give peace a chance’

Meanwhile, residents of the Deep South who lost loved ones in the insurgency are reacting positively to this week’s news out of Kuala Lumpur.

Yamae-a Manahing, whose husband was killed by a stray bullet in Yala province in 2008, said MARA Patani’s debut in front of the media was a promising development.

“It will be good if those people can stop the violence because, for eleven years, thousands of women were turned into widows, kids into orphans. Give peace a chance, if they may,” Yamae-a told BenarNews.

In nearby Pattani province, Aeda Bue-raheng lost a sibling to the violence three years ago. Her younger brother, a civilian, was shot and killed by the military in early 2012, she said.

“I have an impression that the violence comes from the government side,” Aeda told BenarNews.

“I don’t know if those members of MARA Patani truly represent the operatives in the field. But if they try to make peace, it is a good thing,” she added.

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