BANGKOK – Four years on from the launch of peace talks aimed at ending a separatist insurgency in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, progress is moving at a snail’s pace. Some critics say that both the Thai government and Islamist militants appear to be going through the motions of a bogus peace process.
Both sides need to find a fresh approach. Divisions among the insurgents need to be overcome, allowing collective negotiations with the Thai government, and the ruling junta needs to stop ignoring the cultural and historical grievances between the population of the South and the Thai state. There must also be justice for innocent civilians killed and injured by both sides.
Only if these issues are addressed can there be hope for the peace process, launched by former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Kuala Lumpur in February 2013 in an initiative that amounted to little more than a leap of faith in the possibility of a political solution to the crisis.
Muslims account for less than 6% of Thailand’s overall population, but make up about 90% of the population in the three southern provinces. In these regions, they have a greater affinity with neighboring Muslim-majority Malaysia than with Thailand’s predominantly Buddhist heartland. Armed insurgents seeking independence have staged terror attacks for more than a decade, causing thousands of deaths.
The current peace initiative got off to a rocky start. The Barisan Revolusi Nasional, the main Islamist group leading separatist militants in the region, sent representatives to the talks but appeared determined to derail them, making tough demands that included the release of all detainees held on treason charges.
It also demanded the participation of the international community, and called on the Thai government to recognize it as the sole representative of all the people in the region, including ethnic Chinese and Thais. Bangkok rejected these demands, giving the BRN a pretext for walking out of the talks, which it did by the end of 2013.
The peace initiative suffered another blow when Yingluck, its main sponsor, was removed from office by a court ruling followed by a military coup in May 2014. The military, which has since run the country, had not been closely involved in the peace talks. Thai Army sources say the generals were not told about the initiative until a few days before the launch.
This partly explains why Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup, waited seven months before making an official visit to Malaysia to ask Kuala Lumpur to “facilitate” the talks. Refusing to consider negotiating solely with the BRN, the junta called on all separatist groups to deal with the government under a common banner.
The insurgents are now represented by MARA Patani, an umbrella group made up of ethnic Malay separatist movements, which has been bolstered by recognition from Malaysia and others in the international community.
However, the BRN refuses to join MARA Patani. Since it controls virtually all the insurgents on the ground, the BRN believes it should be dictating the terms for talks. A handful of BRN mid-level cadres have joined MARA Patani, but Thai security officials and separatist sources said these individuals do not have a mandate from the BRN’s ruling council, which controls the combatants. – Continue Reading…..
By Don Pathan – Nikkei