Peace talks in south Thailand at cross roads again?

AS far as the peace dialogue process in restive South Thailand is concerned, any political changes at the helm both in Malaysia and Thailand will have an impact on the process one way or another.

This was true when the Thai military toppled the civilian government of Premier Yingluck in 2014, and now the unexpected change of government in Malaysia would probably have some effects on the peace dialogue.

What more it was sponsored by Malaysia and the facilitator Datuk Seri Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim  was exclusively appointed by the country's former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The 14th Malaysian General Election on May 9th saw the landslide victory of the Pakatan Harapan led by the former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, over the incumbent Barisan Nasional under the leadership of Najib.

Looking back, in December 2013 I wrote an article entitled Peace Talk at Cross Road and the Malay version: ‘Bicara Damai di Persimpangan Jalan’ shedding light on the uncharted course of the fragile peace process.

At that time the peace dialogue process initiated during the administration of Thai Premier Yingluck was coming to an end for reasons we already knew.

When the process resumed under the military installed government of General Prayut Chan Ocha in 2015 between representatives of Thai government and MARA Patani, an umbrella organization of several Patani liberation movements, many were skeptical if the process could bring about any sustainable political solution for the volatile Deep South.

The new rounds of dialogue went through the twists and turns of the trust building measures. By September 2016 the Joint Technical Teams (JTT) of both sides agreed on the Terms of Reference (TOR) and continued with the discussion of the Safety Zones implementation.

After 19 months they came up with The General Framework for the Safety Zones (SZ), the establishment of the Safe House (SH) and the Formation of Joint Action Committee (JAC). The agreements reached at the dialogue table include the release of Patani Malay political prisoners prior to the implementation of the SZ.

The situation on the ground, however, did not reflect the cordial atmosphere and the trust building at the dialogue table in Kuala Lumpur.

Violent incidences and unwarranted maneuvers from both sides continue till today. Certain provocative moves and statements by the Fourth Army Commander, Lt. General Piyawat Nakwanich very much contradicted with what has been discussed and agreed upon at the dialogue table.

That prompted Mara Patani's panel chief Ustaz Shukri Hari to come up with a media statement on 23 April 2018 to clarify the group's stance. It was widely covered by the Thai media (TV3, Thai BBC and Thai PBS ) and four other Malaysian news agencies(Bernama,Utusan Malaysia,Sinar Harian and TV3).

The last meeting between the two technical teams(JTT) was on 25 April 2018.

It was the final overview of the agreed SZ, SH, and JAC before being submitted to the main team, the Joint Working Group - Peace Dialogue Process (JWG-PDP), for endorsement prior to full implementation of the SZ.

Both sides consented on the tentative inauguration date but the Thai side could not agree on signing the document. Their argument was that the process is still at the confidence building stage, therefore the signing of any document is unnecessary.

Mara Patani, on the other hand, opined that the signing of the agreement was mandatory since it involved certain sensitive issues like legal, security and safety net for its members who will participate in the SZ exercise.

Without signing the document there is no guarantee for them. The meeting ended in a stalemate. Both sides eventually agreed to let the JWG-PDP make the final decision in a meeting scheduled in early May 2018. That too did not materialize.

In my opinion, now, the much awaited implementation of the Safety Zones will have to wait, at least for two reasons: First, until both parties could agree on the dispute over the document signing issue, the implementation of the SZ will be put on hold.

Secondly, the role of the facilitator Ahmad Zamzamin is unclear now as he has been exclusively appointed by Malaysia's Najib on a contract that expires in February 2019.

It is still premature to predict if Dr Mahathir will retain him or have him replaced. The new administration is prioritized on strengthening its government first before turning to the peace process.

Like I always say, the peace talk remains fragile and unpredictable like how it has always been.

With changes that we have seen in Malaysia, the best analogy that I can provide is that we are once again at the red light of a junction.

When will the light turn green and to which direction we will go, it remains unclear at the moment. Until then all we have to do is wait.

 

* The views set forth in the article are solely the views of the writer and in no way reflect the stand of www.peoplesvoice.news.

* Abu Hafez Al-Hakim the spokesperson of Mara-Patani, an umbrella organization of several Patani Islamic liberation movements in the Muslim Malay-majority southern Thailand shares some insights on how changes in the Malaysian leadership has put the peace dialogue at crossroads.