As civil society groups advocating for peace are going to launch “Pat[t]ani Peace Process” in early September 2012, Deep South Journalism School (DSJ) talks to Dr. Norbert Ropers, director of Berfhof Peace Support who has played a vital role in creating “platform” for conversation among in order to form “insider mediators” create joint conviction that comes from people of all faiths and ethnic groups and build a roadmap to peace.
In a seminar on “PPP: Pa(t)ani Peace Process in ASEAN Context”, which will be held at Prince of Songkhla University at Hat Yai on 7 September 2012, Dr. Ropers will give a speech on “IPP in context of PPP : Insider Peacebuilding Platform in the context of Pat(t)ani Peace Process” (For a detailed schedule, please see page 3-4). This prominent German scholar who has long experiences in dealing with conflicts in several countries explained his idea about the role of “insiders” in building peace process, particularly in the context of southern Thailand.
Dr. Ropers explained that, generally speaking, Europe has concepts and models of mediators in conflict resolution while Asia is rather weak in this regard. We have seen several developments in ASEAN countries, although the ideas of having mediators in dealing conflicts still face with some resistance. Take for example, the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. While there was a mediator, there did not archive anything much.
Who are “the insiders”?
Dr. Ropers elaborates by showing a diagram that there are 3 tracks of people in the society; Track 1 includes the state and insurgents, Track 2 is the civil society, and Track 3 is the grassroots. In each society, there are people with extreme thoughts and that is true for Thai society, which have both Muslims and Buddhists with extreme thoughts. However, among them, there are the moderates, who belong to one side or the other. These people want peace and aspire to see non-violent struggle.
Pyramid of Peace show peaple in different tracks who could potentially be engaged in the peacebuilding effort.
“The people who are not at the extreme are, for me, potential insiders. They are either peace builders – when they mainly work on advocacy-- or they can be peace mediator when they help to establish dialogue between the two sides.”
“My mission is to support insiders. My argument is that there will only be peace if majority of people in the region is willing to support it.”
Dr. Ropers explained that it is important that people in the society know about peacebuilding process. People need to be involved and it should not be left to Track 1 only. It is vital to attach importance to the grassroots because people are diverse.
He pointed out that he is aspiring to push this issue at the international level.
“In the latest report of the UN secretary general, for the first time, they acknowledge the role of insiders. It just happened last month, in July, so that was very good . For me, it is very important to push that because internationally there is too much focus on this [Track 1].”
Asked if mediation at the Track 1 level is not effective, Dr. Ropers said that if the process involves only Track 1, the conflict could be protracted because there are only two actors – the state and the armed groups.
“The Track 1 is nearly intractable or protracted. It means that the government is very reluctant to engage in political dialogue, not to speak of negotiation about political solution. That is still a long way down the road…..On the insurgents side, the problem is that they indeed have not declared openly what they want or if they are willing to negotiate. So, the interaction between the two sides is both sides can say ‘we cannot do anything’ and this is an unresolvable vicious circle.”
Under this circumstance, Dr. Ropers said that it is vital for a third party to come to break this cycle. Civil society and people who are in the middle could push for dialogues or negotiation. They could request both the state and insurgents to take actions and push them to find concrete solutions to the problems.
“I would not describe that group of insiders as a third party in a narrow sense because many of them are close to one or the other party. So, this is a broad spectrum of people of different convictions but what they all share is that they would like to find a peaceful solution. And they think that new thinking is necessary and that the old method doesn’t help. So, that is unique but they also know that they alone cannot change the situation.”
“They have to take into account that one day they have to convince the leader here [Thai state] and the leader here [the armed group] come to some kind of compromise but this is a step by step approach.”
Dr. Ropers said “conflict resolution will take many years. While it takes many years, we still can do little things. And the most important things that insiders can do is to build network and strong lobby group in the Deep South because at the end of the day there would be a joint conviction of the Malay Muslims and Thai Buddhists.”
He said the movement in the Deep South should come up with solution that is difficult for Bangkok to resist.
“There would be, let say, 10,000 people -- among them 2,000 Thai Buddhists -- making a demonstration in front of SBPAC [Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center] in Yala and says that this is our documents on solution to the conflict. Please do something about it. That is a very strong method, which you cannot resist. And I would say, imagine 10,000 people meeting everyday once a week, always requesting that we want a peaceful solution, we fed up with violence, we fed up with the emergency decree. This is our proposal. This is durable and we will go on and demonstrate every week until they solve the problems.”
Dr. Ropers said that voice from local people is critically important. Malay Muslims and Buddhists in the area should come up with a joint conviction and then seek consensus from Thai society at large. This is what he want to help create and it could be more than one proposal. The point is that it has to come from insiders and not from outsiders.
Although it is likely that voice of majority Thais are louder, local people should try to convince them to accept their proposal through consensus building process. It is important to build the political environment at the national level so as to make it conducive for their proposals to be accepted. They have to throw political models for the larger Thai society to debate and push these ideas at the local, national and international level.
Dr. Ropers said that in order to produce concrete proposals, it is important to have a group of intellectuals working together. For example, they could push the government to accept Haji Sulong Abdul Kadir’s 7-demand roadmap which was previously deemed as a rebellious idea. In fact, it is not. It is a doable proposal. However, the bottom line is that any proposals would have to come from discussion among various groups of insiders.
“It has to focus on the reasonable, negotiable and good proposal,” Dr.Ropers said.
Cases of Success and Failure in Other Countries
In 2002 – 2003, LTTE tried to carve an independent state from Sri Lanka but its effort failed. It was defeated because they did not build a good strategy and they did not have intellectuals or those with good knowledge and foreign experiences to helping them build good strategies.
“In the Deep South of Thailand, the intellectuals could develop strategies where they come up with reasonable proposal, which is in the constitution of Thailand or regional autonomy and is formulated in a way that can be digested in Thailand by moderate people” Dr. Ropers said.
When they have a proposal, they could propose this to the public and key political figures, such as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Abhisit Vejjajiva, opposition leader and those in other key political institutions in Thailand. They have to stress that the proposal comes from moderate people, is reasonable and has gone through study and consultation process.
Although creating such strategies take time, there are samples of successful cases such as the ETA, a separatist group in Spain. It built up a strategy and negotiated with the central government. At the end, the separatist idea changed to autonomy or other possible forms.
In the past, the armed insurgents also wanted to carve a separate state from Spain similarly to those in southern Thailand. They also killed innocent people, which affected their legitimacy. It is very much like the BRN. If the movement continues to use violence against innocent victims, their demands might not be heeded.
Military Solutions : “Unworkable”
Dr. Ropers asks whether it would be better to build a “platform” for the government and the armed movement to have dialogue. As seen in other countries, it is very rare that a separatist movement that uses violence would succeed.
He said whether or not this process would work will also depend on other political factors. It certainly takes time and involves some risk. If the government uses military means to suppress the insurgents, it would be difficult for this process to succeed. On the other hand, if the insurgents continue to use violence, this process might not work either.
Dr. Ropers said that both side should no longer use military means. We have to find political solutions to tackle the problems and stop violence. His job is to work with those in Track 2 and Track 3 to provide them with support and build the new working environment to create platform and urge insurgents to join.
This process was done successfully in some countries such as Nepal and South Africa. In 2005 in Nepal, there was a peace building process with insider mediators helping to connect the central government, royalists and the Maoists. South Africa is another successful story that took place in 1990. A similar process is also being developed in Mindanao, Philippines, which has also been facing resistance from several separatist groups.
While, at the global level, peace process is still largely being carried out by outsiders, insiders have gained an increasing role in some regions such as Libya, Lebanon. They are trying to build up the network of civil society groups.
“I dream one day we can achieve our effort in building insider mediator in the Deep South of Thailand and that become the model for other conflict in other countries. Also right now, many people said let’s see the Nepal solution, let’s see the Northern Ireland solution, or South Africa,” Dr. Ropers said.
As for the conflict management in Southeast Asia which is apparently not in line with the upcoming integration of ASEAN in 2015, Dr. Norbert viewed that there will be more economic competition among countries. There will be more foreigners coming to Thailand, while Thais would be travelling more to other countries. This climate of competition would prompt every country to remove trade barriers.
Whether or not investors would decide to come to Thailand, they would look at political stability and how the country resolves their conflicts. This is an indicator for investor to decide whether or not they want to invest.
NOTE: This interview is a revised and translated version of "ดร.โนเบิร์ต โรเปอร์ส:
that was first published on Deep South Journalism School’s website on September 4, 2012. Please see the Thai version at www.deepsouthwatch.org/dsj/3515
Translated by Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat