TWO YEARS OF PEACE DIALOGUE - A small step forward.
Abu Hafez Al-Hakim
( The author is a member of MARA Patani's Dialogue Panel in the Peace Dialogue Process)
By 1 December 2016 the Peace Dialogue Process between the representatives of Thai (military) government and that of MARA Patani, an umbrella organization representing Patani movements, passed the 2 year milestone. Towards the end of 2015 in December the Technical Teams of both sides were discussing the Terms of Reference (TOR). Meetings and communications were conducted through Malaysian facilitation .
On 10 January 2016 the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Coorpration(OIC), Dr. Iyad Ameen Madani unofficially met a delegation of MARA Patani in Kuala Lumpur. Dr. Madani was in transit on his working visit to this region. The meeting was positive and satisfactory. It needs to stress here that the issue of observer status for MARA Patani in the OIC , as publicised and concerned by some, was never mentioned nor discussed. It was never an issue in MARA Patani's agenda. A strong and continuous support from the OIC for the peace process is sufficient.( See : http://deepsouthwatch.org/node/8002 - MARA Patani met OIC )
The Technical Teams met again on 26-27 January 2016 to continue the discussion on TOR. There was considerable progress. Some of the tricky and sensitive issues were laid on the table and the mutual agreement was 80-90% . By 23 March 2016 both teams wrapped up the TOR and were ready to move the process to the next step. Party A's Technical Team Chief , Lt. General Nakrob Bunbuathong , passed a "Safety Zones " document to Party B through the Facilitator.
The agreed TOR could pave way for formalizing the process since the three proposals of MARA Patani were incorporated into the TOR ( see detail proposals of MARA Patani in : http://www.deepsouthwatch.org/node/7833 ). Again it needs to be reminded that the three proposals were not demands. When the process is formal, more substantial issues could be discussed at a later stage, including the safety zones. The Steering Committee of MARA Patani has approved the finalized TOR in April 2016.
Meanwhile in Istanbul Turkey ,the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)in its 13th Summit 14-15 April 2016 , released a communique pertaining to Patani conflict No. 94 and 95 :
" The Conference welcomed the formation of a group of representatives of the Muslim community in the South and the decision of the Government to continue the peace dialogue with the group under Malaysian facilitation"
" The Conference encouraged the Government to grant the group of representatives of the Muslim community in the South the required recognition and called upon the Government to provide guarantee of safety in travelling to and from Thailand to members of the dialogue team and protection from detention and prosecution during their engagement in the peace process "
If anything , it goes to show that the OIC welcomes the formation of MARA Patani, supports the peace process and urges the Thai government to recognize MARA Patani as well as granting immunity to its panel members.
The full team meeting of JWG-PDP met again on 27 April 2016. It was expected that it would be the first formal meeting to endorse the agreed TOR and to issue a join media Statement. On the contrary, however , the Head of Party A, Gen. Aksra Kerdpol informed the meeting that Thailand was not ready to endorse the Terms of Reference ( TOR ) because the Thai Prime Minister has not yet approved it . The real reasons were however not disclosed.
The much controversy regarding the earlier removal of Lt. Gen. Nakrob Bunbuathong from the Thai team was exposed by that decision. He was the "engine" of the Thai team who was knowledgeable and well-versed of the peace process. He headed the Technical Team of Party A. Prior to his removal he was optimistic that the Party A will endorse the TOR. His absence was felt and has considerably affected the process.
On the following day, 28/4/16, MARA Patani issued a statement : A brief update of 27/4/16 meeting which was widely circulated in the media. "Although we were disappointed with that decision, it was respected. The Safety Zones issue was not touched at all ", the statement said. ( See : http://www.deepsouthwatch.org/node/8600 the English version of the article : 27 April 2016 ) Mara Patani will give ample time for the Party A to review the agreed TOR and inform the Facilitator of its decision in due course.
The response by the TmG was equally harsh and swift. “…Thailand cannot negotiate with law breakers. It must be based on law and justice process" said the Prime Minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha . "Why should we accept their demand of how they should be called ? You know how many groups there are? You know why the talks were held abroad because they could not be held in the country,” he added. See (http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/topic/913816-pm-shuns-peace-dialogue-with-... )
Gen. Aksra was more diplomatic . "Talks with Deep South rebels are alive but a limited ceasefire must be in place before Thailand can agree to terms for advancing the peace process" Bangkok’s chief negotiator said Friday.
“Therefore, it is a must to cease violence in certain areas, and then we can join together to prepare a comprehensive TOR [Terms of Reference] spanning over the trust-building stage,” he told reporters in Bangkok. (See : http://www.benarnews.org/english/news/thai/talks-folo-04292016135059.html.
In June 2016 Party A sent a revised version of the TOR to MARA Patani through the Facilitator. After deliberation MARA Patani proposed that the Technicals Teams of both sides return to the table for further discussion.
The Technical Teams met again on 16 August 2016 . Party A proposed a revised version of the "rejected" TOR , supposed to have Prime Minister's approval, that slashed some crucial issues agreed earlier on. Among others are : the recognition of MARA Patani's name as its dialogue partner , the disputed geographical areas and the issue of immunity ( Security Facilitation and Protection ). The adoption of the peace process of "National Agenda " was however secured ( The peace process as a National Agenda is also clearly reflected in the "Administration and Development Policy in Southern Border Provinces 2560-2562 BE.).
Major Gen Sitthi also explained Party A's reasons and reservations regarding the revised version of the TOR and agreed that the crucial issues are not included in the document but will be recorded in the minutes of meeting. He noted " while the previously agreed TOR was the most comprehensive TOR that reflected the views and aspirations of both parties , the simplified and revised one approved by the Prime Minister would enable the dialogue process to move a step forward "
At this juncture Party B, MARA Patani, provisionally accepted the TOR and to carry forward the said issues for discussion at an appropriate time later on. That decision by MARA Patani reflects its flexibility , compromise and accommodative attitude in order to allow the process to move a step forward. Both Technical Teams then agreed on a date for full team meeting to endorse the TOR.
As expected, the JWG-PDP full team meeting convened on 2 September 2016 amid the much debated bombings and arson attacks in the seven provinces of the Upper South, and earlier on following the Referendum result , especially in the Deep South . General Aksra specifically queried about the incidences. MARA Patani reiterated that it is a political coalition and is committed to resolving the conflict through peace dialogue.
The panels passed and adopted the TOR , agreed to move the process to the next level , while at the same time maintaining the meetings as "unofficial" and to continue with the Confidence Building Measures. Party B's suggestion that a media statement be released at the end of meeting by the Facilitator was declined by Party A who proposed both parties A and B made media statements separately.
In the afternoon, after the meeting, Abu Hafez Al-Hakim, MARA Patani's spokesman, made a media statement summing up the meeting to Thai TV3, Thai PBS , Benarnews and Bernama Agency :
" In the JWG -PDP meeting today the representatives of MARA Patani and the Thai government agreed on the following :
1. To accept the latest version of the TOR ,
2. To principally agreed on the discussion of Safety Zones in the coming talks,
3. To accept the proposals from Women's Agenda for Peace(PAW) for further discussion
4. The JWG-PDP meetings will still continue unofficially."
The next agenda of the peace dialogue is the Safety Zones(SZ). Although this particular issue was one of the counter-proposals from the Party A , MARA Patani sees it a relevant and crucial agenda to discuss with at this Confidence Building stage. While Party A's main objective is to test if Party B can curb violent incidences by maintaining control over the armed units in a designated area or zone , MARA Patani would also want to gauge the Thai government's sincerity and commitment to address certain issues that are being passed across at the table. The SZ discussion is indeed an actual assessment of mutual trust, commitment, compromise and how both parties can cooperate when it is implemented.
The SZ is also an issue that has been voiced by many groups, peoples and stakeholders on the ground , especially among the CSOs and NGOs. Caught in between the fire-fights, in fact they are the most people that are directly affected by the violent incidences from armed groups and government forces. Thus far there was only one proposal pertaining to the SZ submitted to both parties at the dialogue table ie. from the Women's Agenda for Peace (PAW). .
The CSOs and NGOs are encouraged to come forward with proposals and recommendations on this vital issue because it is the people's agenda. Peace advocates and activists need to be empowered to enable them play an effective role in supporting the process, to help drive it forward and at the same time serving as a safety net. We are expecting more positive and constructive efforts from them.
On 25 October 2016 , which happened to coincide with the 12th anniversary of the Tak Bai tragedy of 2004 , the JWG-PDP full teams met again in Kuala Lumpur. The meeting agreed to form Joint-Technical Team (JTT) for the discussion on the SZ. The JTT meeting commenced on the following day (26/10/2016) and ended on 27 October 2016. During those two days both parties presented their respective views and concepts of the SZ. There were some similarities as well as differences. A preliminary General Framework on the Establishment of Safety Zone was drafted .
The second JTT meeting on SZ was on 22 November 2016 where both sides explored deeper on Definition , Objectives and the Mechanism of the SZ. The discussion was not without tension nor condemnation but it is observed that this time around, contrary to the meetings of the TOR , both sides are now more accommodative and tolerance of each others' views and proposals. The entire atmosphere was more cordial and relaxed. This could be attributed to improved interpersonal interaction since the representatives on both sides are more or less the same as the Technical Teams of the TOR. If anything, this goes to show that after two years talking the confidence building index between two sides is starting to bear its fruit. Still, the road to full cooperation and understanding is far ahead.
At the meeting MARA Patani also submitted 3 proposals for Party A's consideration for trust building gestures prior to SZ implementation :
1. Safety guarantee and protection for MARA Patani's representatives at local level,
2. Release of some political prisoners who could help in the SZ implementation,
3 Consider terminating the proposed controversial Coal Power Plant and other exploration of natural resources in the Deep South
On 12-13 December 2016 MARA Patani held its second Conference attended by more than 60 participants, men and women, from all its component members. The participants were from inside Patani and oversea including Europe. Many prominent leaders notably the Movements' top leaders like Chegu Mae Kutih, Kasturi Mahkota , Ustaz Ahmad Chu-wo and Awang Jabat were present. . Ten papers from various topics were tabled and discussed in the session to review MARA Patani’s past activities and to determine its future political direction. A resolution was issued at the end of the Conference. In its media statement released at the end of the conference MARA Patani once again reiterates its commitment to resolving Patani conflict through peace dialogue process with Thailand ( See : http://www.deepsouthwatch.org/dsj/9946 ).
The third JTT meeting on SZ, the last for 2016 ,was on 20 December 2016 exploring further on Area and Time Frame. The three recent proposals from MARA Patani were addressed by the Thai team. However, we will still wait for the official response from the Thai Steering Committee since the issues are crucial for the SZ implementation. The meeting ended with almost completed SZ Framework except for some minor issues. The agreed draft of the General Framework on Safety Zones will be submitted to the JWG-PDP for endorsement in the coming months.
It is expected that within the first half of 2017 the Safety Zones will be put on trial as a pilot project at a designated area mutually agreed, another test of confidence building for both parties A and B. It is indeed a small step forward and a great challenge not only for both parties A and B but also for the representatives of the CSOs/NGOs and the local people who will be part and parcel of the Safety Zones implementation.
Abu Hafez Al-Hakim - from outside the fence of Patani
24 December 2016 / 24 Rabi'ul Awwal 1438 H