The much anticipated 1 December 2014 meeting of the Malaysian Prime Minister,Mr.Najib Razak and the “self-appointed “ Military Thai Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-O-Cha in Kuala Lumpur ended not with one but three “Bangs”. Both leaders agreed that the upcoming peace talk, or rather “Happiness Talk” as proposed by the Thais , would be based on three principles ( i.e. the three “Bangs”-writer). According to Mr. Najib the three principles were a period of no violence; all parties being represented in the peace talks and all parties in southern Thailand agreeing to one united demand to be put forward to the Thai government. Based on the three principles, Malaysia will continue (the peace process) and the Thai government has stated categorically that Malaysia is the only country that they will work with on the peace process,"
After exactly one year of suspension, the Peace Process is expected to be back on tract amid confusions , uncertainties and violence on the ground. On the day of the General’s arrival in the Malaysian capital , security personals in the Deep South were busy removing banners allegedly put up by the members of Patani movements the previous night. This time around the banners were “upgraded” to three languages : Patani Malay, Thai and English that read : IS IT APPROPRIATE TO NEGOTIATE WITH THE COUP GOVERNMENT ? THERE IS NO GUARENTEE FOR SINCERITY. Anti coup sentiment is high in the air and to the Patani Malays, military leaders are not to be trusted and their legitimacy questionable. In Kuala Lumpur too General Prayuth and his 19 –member team was met with Malaysian protesters outside the Thai Embassy demanding an immediate end to military rule and the release of political detainees.
Although it was understood that both governments acknowledged the process which started last year was official, nothing much was mentioned regarding the status of the General Consensus on Peace Dialogue signed on 28 February 2013. Is this resumption a continuation of the last year’s peace process or a newly “overhauled” one? Does the preconditioned “under the framework of Thai constitution“ phrase, something that the Patani fighters find very irritating, still stands? What about the BRN’s five preliminary demands and its 38-pages detailed explanation? And last but not least has the peace process been accepted as a National Agenda and fully endorsed by the Thai Parliament, if at all there is one and legitimate?
Now that almost ALL who had sat at the KL dialogue table were gone. The whole Thai team was gone after its head, Lt.General Paradorn was stripped off his post as the NSC Chief. So was the BRN team when Hassan Taib addressed himself as ex-head of Patani Malay delegation a year ago. The one single person remains is the Malaysian Facilitator, Mr. Ahmad Zamzamin, who will continue to shoulder this heavy task , to overcome obstacles and problems, and to rectify whatever mistakes and shortcomings of the previous year.
The Thai side has more or less confirmed General Aksara Kerdpol as its new head with backings from the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC), the National Security Council(NSC) and other related ministries/agencies,comprising of 10-12 members.
Many eyes now turn towards the Patani Malay Movements who have been relatively silent all these while. Which of the many groups will turn up this time? Who will be representing in the team? Who will head the delegation? Will the BRN come at all, since the “five demands” and the “National Agenda” issues were not appropriately addressed and clarified? Through Hassan Taib in his Youtube clip on the night of 30 November 2013, the BRN had clearly stated that it will not participate in future talks unless both issues are settled.
Then there is another issue of three factions of PULO. Last year Mr. Luqman Binlima represented a faction of PULO. Unconfirmed reports suggest that another two factions will also get on board, at least Mr.Kasturi has openly stated his intention to turn up. The BIPP who had played a supportive role behind the scene last year has yet to make a decision. Lastly there is the GMP Head who had recently declared independence of Patani and the formation of the Patani government in-exile. He too might be interested.
While the situation on the ground is approaching the boiling point with attacks, bombings and killings on daily basis, there has been serious debate among the movement circles whether it is to their advantage to talk to the military junta at this juncture or better to wait for a legitimate democratically elected government in 1-2 years time. The messages conveyed through the recent banners are clear: the coup regime is NOT SINCERE and therefore should not be negotiated with.
There are also negative signals from the Thai side(read :military) that the “happiness talk” has nothing to do with restructuring of administration of the Deep South, and the “self-rule” issue is out of question. Some Patani leaders are reluctant to join while others do not mind as long as there are no preset conditions and everyone come “empty-handed”. The five preliminary demands were perceived by others as exclusively BRN’s. If more groups come joining in, it would be expected that in the coming “unified demands” as mentioned and agreed by both Prime Ministers ,more items will be added to the list.
Regarding the three principles, it is vital that all Patani Malay movements should be present at the table. The demands will be unified. However to have a no violence period is difficult to achieve at this early stage. Perhaps we should look back at last Ramadhan’s failed cease-fire attempt and learn from that grave mistake. Another failure of similar approach is unacceptable. A viable and good prospect peace process should begin with mutual discussion and agreement of a road map followed by the trust building measures. When the process becomes more stable and smooth, then discussion about the period of no violence and negotiation for a cease-fire can take place.
The following weeks will see inter-parties communications, openly and secretly, and the Malaysian Facilitator will be contacting the various working groups to kick start the peace process. Perhaps by the end the year or early next year things will be clearer and hoping that there will be no more political “accidents”, we would see both parties, the Thai and Patani teams sit face to face again talking about peace.....or is it about happiness?
We will see....
Abu Hafez Al-Hakim
December 2104/ Safar 1436 H