Peace talk and reorganisational problem pose challenges for government
The southern unrest problem which has dragged on for nine years still poses a major challenge for the government this year and the big question is how the government will proceed – militarily and politically - to pacify the region.
One of the issues raised at a panel discussion held last December by the Patani Forum, a non-governmental think-tank dedicated to the problems in the deep South, is informal peace talk between the Thai state and the various insurgent groups.
Informal peace talk to resolve the southern unrest problem is nothing new. In fact, the process has been going on – on and off – for the past eight years since 2005 when then Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister. It has carried on by seven successive governments, including the incumbent administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to no avail.
During the Thaksin government, then Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was asked to help in the peace talk eventually leading to the Langkawi peace process in which several "old guard" leaders of the old separatist movements such as Pulo and BRN were invited to attend the talk in Malaysia’s Langkawi on different occasions. The final result was the drafting of the Langkawi peace plan which was submitted to the Thai government, but unfortunately the plan was never implemented until the government was ousted in a coup in 2006.
During the government of prime minister Surayud Chulanont, the Internal Security Operations Command was given the greenlight by the government to go ahead with peace talk with the insurgent groups with the participation of both local and foreign non-governmental organizations, academics and foreign governments. But the talk made little headway.
The peace process appears to have halted during the governments of prime ministers Somchai Wongsawat and Samak Sundaravej as they were more occupied with domestic political problems. Moreover, then army commander-in-chief General Anupong Paochinda was not enthusiastic with talking with the insurgents.
The process was revived by the Abhisit government. Peace talk resumed with Pulo representatives resulting to the unilateral ceasefire declaration by Pulo in three districts of Narathiwat during June to July of 2510. Concurrently, public discussions were held with the participation of community and religious leaders to gauge their wills on the southern unrest problem and related problems.
During the government of Prime Minster Yingluck Shinawatra, Pol Col Thawee Sodsong, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre, was tasked to carry on with the peace talk. Former prime minister Thaksin was reported to meet with 17 separatist leaders in Kuala Lumpur in March 2012 but none of the participants came from the BRN Coordinate which is believed to be the group responsible for most of the violence in the restive region.
As a gesture protest against the Kuala Lumpur meeting, Juwae warrioers linked to BRN Coordinate detonated car bombs in Hat Yai and Yala’s Muang district on March 31.
A special report at the end of the discussion held by Patani Forum blamed the repeated failures of peace talks on the Thai governments for their lack of a clear-cut policy regarding peace talk, lack of unity among key agencies charged with overseeing the southern unrest problem and political conflicts. The report also blamed the lack of unity among the insurgent and separatist groups and their failure to restrain the extremists or the Juwae warriors.
The report however proposed that the people’s sector should serve as a go-between to coordinate future peace talk which might have a better chance of success.
Another major issue is the policy direction of the government as throughout the past 17 months the government remains preoccupied with structural changes of the organization responsible for the deep South.
Besides the SBPAC, Prime Minister Yingluck in her capacity as head of security affairs ordered the setup of a new super organization, named Centre for Integrated Solution of Problems and Development for Southern Provinces, which also oversees the SBPAC.
But after a big workshop attended by all ministries and agencies with a role in the deep South, the government created a new organization, called the Operational Centre to Resolve Problems in the Southern Border Provinces to coordinate works between the SBPAC, Isoc and 17 ministries. The organization was later renamed to avoid a legal hitch. Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung was appointed director of this new organization.
But the real problem is that this new organization may not be effective in administration because it was created by an order of the prime minister unlike the SBPAC which was supported by an Act. As such, SBPAC should be the key organization in charge of non-military operations and activities whereas Isoc is the key organization responsible for security affairs.
Seen in this perspective, all the government’s efforts at restructural changes of organizations overseeing the problems in the deep South seem to be a complete waste because the new organizations are a duplication of the existing ones and none of them have legal support.