Peace in Thai south: The show must go on

Peace in Thai south: The show must go on

After a lull of nearly four months, representatives of the government in Bangkok are planning to meet southern insurgents for a fifth round of peace talks which can take place any time soon.

If the situation on the ground allows, and concerned parties are reorganised, it is highly possible that the dialogue could move up one notch, becoming a process of negotiation.

Low-level separatist violence has been common in the predominantly Muslim southern provinces of Songkhla, Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani for decades. Since 2004, however, the situation has become far more serious.

Despite confusion at the top Thai echelons, and the continued insurgent attacks since the talks were launched on Feb 28, the Thai government under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra remains committed to ensuring that the dialogue survives.

Bangkok's perspective

THE stakes are extremely high for Ms Yingluck and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was blamed for the escalation of conflict during his premiership. His record of atrocity remains the biggest scar in Southern Thailand.

With the renewed support from Malaysia after its national elections, and especially from Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the Thai government is gaining confidence that additional pressure on the insurgents from Kuala Lumpur will soon bear fruit, eventually producing a ceasefire.

The Thai plan to add other international players has been shelved for now. Malaysia has repeatedly assured the Thai authorities that the security of the southern region is closely connected to northern Malaysia's security and well-being. Leading insurgent figures are still living across from the Thai border.

Both Malaysia and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) tried to broker a deal to reduce the level of violence during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The attempt failed, and the level of violence during the fasting period was the highest it has been for three years. Insurgents excluded from the peace dialogue were blamed for the violence.

In recent weeks, the Thai government has contacted other parties, including various splinter groups under the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), urging them to join the talks.

Malaysia has made it clear that it would not support any move to divide Thailand's territorial integrity. The National Revolution Front (BRN), which was the main insurgent group in the peace talks, has also informed Bangkok that the insurgents will not ask for territorial separation. Instead, they are aiming for self-determination, a concept which has yet to be defined.

However, the Thai military top brass, including army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, are opposed to such an arrangement as they would lose influence in the troubled south.

Bangkok is also looking to Malaysia to implement tighter border controls to prevent the importation of explosive material and incendiary devices. According to the Fourth Army region, from October 2011 to September 2012 there were 954 insurgent attacks with only 174 cases using explosives. However, in the same period this year, the number of attacks was halved. Stringent controls across the border, the Thais believe, would help reduce bombings and civilian casualties.

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