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A Public Forum on Peace Talks in Southern Thailand: Pathways, Obstacles and Prospects

 A Public Forum on

“Peace Talks in Southern Thailand: Pathways, Obstacles and Prospects”

Wednesday, October 30th  , 2013 at 8.30-12.00 p.m.

The Chumbhot-Pantip Conference Room, 4th Floor Prajadhipok-Rambhaibarni Building,

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

 

08.30 – 09.00 a.m.                  Registration and Coffee

09.00 – 09.10 a.m.                  Welcome Remarks

Supachai Yavaprabhas
Dean, Faculty of Political Science

09.10 – 11.00 a.m.                  Speakers

Matthew Wheeler
Southeast Asia Analyst
The International Crisis Group (ICG)

Don Pathan
Director of Foreign Relation for Pattani Forum and
Thailand-based Freelance and Analyst

Danyal Abdulloh
A Malay-Muslim Activist and Campaigner

Srisompob Jitpiromsri
Director of Deep South Watch (DSW)
Prince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus, Thailand
Member of Thai negotiating team and peace talks

                                                 Moderator

Thitinan Pongsudhirak
Director of ISIS Thailand
Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

11.30 – 12.00 a.m.                  Q&A

......................................................................................................................................

Video: Peace Talks in Southern Thailand: Pathways, Obstacles and Prospects

Peace Talks in Southern Thailand: Pathways, Obstacles and Prospects

Part 1/3 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ4k3BEPDsc&feature=youtu.be

Peace Talks in Southern Thailand: Pathways, Obstacles and Prospects

 Part 2/3 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asUR8U7tAbM&feature=youtu.be

Peace Talks in Southern Thailand: Pathways, Obstacles and Prospects

 Part 3/3 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dV2t-FWlf6s&feature=youtu.be

......................................................................................................................................

 

Welcome remarks:         Supachai Yavaprabhas

                                          Dean

                                          Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

In his welcome remarks, Dr. Suphachai stated that the southern insurgency has been an ongoing controversial issue in Thailand for decades.  Many peace dialogues were initiated to alleviate the tension among people. However, there is still no clear prospect of a peaceful future in the south.

Dr. Suphachai remarked that as an academic, he hopes the ISIS public forum would be an opportunity for everyone to share and express their opinion.

 

Summary

 

Matthew Wheeler

From his study of southern Thai Malay-Muslim insurgency, Wheeler stated that there was evidence of a sufficient degree of BRN’s willingness to negotiate. Also, the degree of control which was asserted by the militant leaders in Malaysia over fighters on the ground in Thailand was discussed by observers.  In his view, the most effective way to constrain the Thai insurgency is by the taking action to respond to each incident. 

As to the issue of leadership of the insurgents, Wheeler pointed out that the Thai side did not have many alternatives. There were limited numbers of people who were willing to talk to the Thai government. The most important thing he suggested was initially to build a concrete process that would endure and bring more people into the dialogue process.

The peace dialogue was initiated by the Democrat party as a national security policy. Its main purpose was to manage conflicts. The Royal Thai Government at the time recognized the BRN as one of the stakeholders in the process which led to major changes in several aspects. Nevertheless, the dialogue was skeptical as the approach was undertaken by the Thai military. Thus, it was perceived as less accepted by the group of Muslims.

The problems of the peace dialogue that have been identified by the observers were the intervention of the former Prime Minister Thaksin in 2012 which was taken to amend his own mistake during his previous government. His intervention was viewed negatively as he did not commit to resolve the problems. Another issue was the role of Malaysia as a facilitator, which was criticized as it was too close to the insurgent area and it might not be able to be an impartial party. However, he noted that the Thai government will have to realize that the Malaysian government is the only party that has real leverage over the militants. Without its involvement, the Thai government and the insurgents may not have any further process.

From his own observation, Wheeler suggested that basic issues should be addressed. The Thai government needed to be more decentralized in giving power to the local authorities. Also, it needed to focus more on the process rather than the outcome to ensure the long-term stability and security of the people.

Wheeler stated that time investment is needed in this process. There is more to be done to reduce conflicts and tensions in the south. All stakeholders should take part identifying the problems and find a common solution that would serve everyone’s interests.

 

Don Pathan

Thailand has long lived with wars and resulting conflicts. The Thai government has dealt with the southern separatists for more than 3 decades since the early 1980s. The historical narrative of the southern provinces of Thailand must be seen in the concept of the difficulty in integrating the previous Malay States with the Thai State. Thus, Thailand has struggled in this circumstance and seemed unable to find the final solution. 

The main idea of Don Pathan’s presentation was the effort to resolve the conflict have been over politicized. Before Thaksin intervened in March 2012, there was progress in finding a common ground acceptable for the local people. However, when ‘Thaksin’s team’ composed of military leaders came into power, the militants refused to negotiate. The major reason was that Thaksin’s people were not the right people to negotiate and the process was extremely rushed. The peace building process has remained in status quo since then.

Don Pathan indicated that ‘the Thai government did the right thing for the wrong reason’. Real unity cannot occur unless the Thai government ‘resets the button’ and diminishes hidden agenda inthe process. A meaningful process should be implemented to foster the reconciliation process. 

 

Danyal Abdulloh

As a young activist and campaigner in the southern provinces of Thailand, Danyal found that the major cause of the Malay-Muslim insurgency was the political structure that limited the freedom of expression of the local inhabitants.  The problem began with Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkram’s government in 1938 that the MPs and representatives of the southern provinces tried to push their agenda in the parliament. However, the demands of the southern minority were denied. Eventually, they tried to pursue their rights through violence and arms. Nevertheless, the more the violence, the less political space they achieved. The trust between both parties was less than ever.

There was a joke that the southern minorities were under 2 laws; the Internal Security Act of the Thai government and the local law against it. People were forced to be on one side or the other. 

Language differences seem to be one of the main factors that impedes the understanding between the working team and the local people. Thai Buddhists speak with a southern dialect while the indigenous Malay-Muslims speak Malay. When the working teams conduct a survey in the area, they always get 2 answers depending on what language is spoken. This reflected the lack of trust in outsiders.

From his experience in several peace dialogues, he found that the 3 main objectives of the southern Malay-Muslim youth were;

1. The genuine climate of peace; Danyal stressed that during the Ramadhan period, the suspects were detained although they were following a religious obligation.

2. The revocation of security law which restricted the political space of the people.

3. The safety zone where people can discuss matters and share their political views

4. Danyal concluded that what he hoped to see most was greater understanding between the Thai and the Malay-Muslims in the southern    provinces of Thailand.

 

Srisompob Jitpiromsri

Srisompob focused on the peace building process that has been going on for decades. The idea of the peace building process was initiated with the objective for seeking the common ground of those involved. The process included not only the top leaders of the two opposing groups but also the local people with a different background who face the challenges in their daily lives. The concept between the people as to peace was rather different. Eventually, the ultimate goal of the process could provide safe and sound public space for everyone.  

As one of the local activists, Srisompob stressed the incidence of violence in the southern border provinces in Thailand, with 12,126 victims during a period of 7 years, this makes Thailand’s southernmost region one of the most sensitive areas in the world. The increasing level of violence indicates that 2011 may be another year of living dangerously for the Southern border provinces of Thailand and might be considered a decisive year of Southern insurgency, if the trend of violence continues to hold. As a consequence, during 86 months beginning from January 2004 to February 2011, there were 10,660 incidents of violence, which have led to soaring records of casualties, 4,631 fatalities and 7,505 injuries. The majority deaths were Muslims while most of the injuries constitute the Buddhist civilians.

Srisompob elaborated on the Barisan Revolusi Nasional’s (BRN) 5 demands as;

1. The recognition of the BRN representatives as a liberal group rather than as separalists. In return, the BRN would stop attacking the soft targets and economic targets.

2. The Malaysian government as the mediator.

3. The OIC, ASEAN and NGOs involvement in the peace dialogue and negotiation.

4. The recognition of the sovereignty of the local Malay-Muslim people which means the 3 provinces will be governed by a special authority. The BRN wanted to have rights for the Malay-Muslim people. In addition, they insisted that the 4th demand is follows the Thai constitution that allows its citizen to have the freedom of self-rule. The main idea of that is often misinterpreted was that they did not demand for the territorial separation from the Thai Kingdom but rather full autonomy and the right for their self-determination. In return, the BRN offered to stop their operation in southern provinces.

5. Free the suspects in the southern security cases. In return, if 10 detainees are released, 1 sub-district will not be attacked by the BRN.

 

It seems that the Thai government and the national security agencies refused to respond to these demands. From his personal perspective, Srisompob argued that the Thai government and the military should discretely consider the 5 demands of the BRN. He concluded that political  unrest of the insurgency is a consequence of the differing discourses in the political conflict, thus, in the peace building effort, conflicts in Thailand will continues.  In this process, the recognition of BRN representatives and the rights of Malay-Muslims have been set in motion and became the key elements in the success of the peace process.


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