In December 2013 I wrote an article: Peace Talk at Cross Road (https://deepsouthwatch.org/ms/node/5109 ) and the Malay version: Bicara Damai di Persimpangan Jalan (https://deepsouthwatch.org/ms/node/5042). 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 O-cha in 2015 between representatives of Thai government and MARA Patani, an umbrella organization of several Patani liberation movements, many are skeptical if the process could bring about any sustainable political solution for the 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). Related to these agreements reached at the dialogue table was the release of Patani Malay political prisoners prior to the implementation of the SZ.
The situation on the ground, however, does 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. Certain provocative moves and statements by the Forth Army Commander, Lt. General Piyawat Nakwanich, very much contradicted with what has been discussed and agreed upon at the table. That prompted Mara Patani's panel chief, Ustaz Shukri Hari, showed up in 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 could not agree on signing the agreement. The Thai side was not agreeable to 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, opines that the signing of the agreement is mandatory since it involves certain sensitive issues like legal, security and safety protection 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 schedule in early May 2018.
That did not materialize. The 9th May Fourteenth Malaysian General Election saw the landslide victory of the Coalition of Hope led by the former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, over the incumbent National Front under the leadership of Najib Razak. As far as the peace dialogue process is concerned, any political changes in both Malaysia and Thailand will have an impact on the process in 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 process.
In my opinion, 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 Facilitator Mr. Zamzamin, was exclusively appointed by Najib Razak on a contract basis 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 is fragile and unpredictable. We are again at the red light of a cross road . When will the light turn green and to which direction we will go , it is all open to our speculation and imagination. Until then all we have to do is WAIT.
Abu Hafez Al-Hakim
From outside the fence of Patani
23 May 2018/ 7 Ramadhan 1439 H