Mystery behind the curtain
Only six representatives each from the government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional were present at the "negotiating" table in their first informal peace talk held in Kuala Lumpur on March 28.
The six government representatives were Lt-Gen Paradorn Pattanathabut, secretary-general of the National Security Council and the chief delegate; Pol Col Thawee Sodsong, secretary-general of Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre; General Nipat Thonglek, deputy defence permanent secretary; Pol Lt-Gen Saritchai Anekwiang, commissioner of Special Branch Police; General Samret Srirai, former commander of the Fourth Army Region and an advisor to the defence minister; and Narathiwat governor Mr Apinan Suethanuwong.
The BRN side was led by Hassan Taib. The other five representatives were not identified but they represented the BRN Coordinate and the Pulo. Lt-Gen Paradorn said that the BRN refused to give the names of the five representatives.
In fact, nine government representatives were in KL for the talks. But because the BRN side fielded only six representatives, including Mr Hassan, the government agreed to do likewise.
Lt-Gen Paradorn admitted that he didn’t know how many BRN representatives were present besides the six who participated in the peace talks "because there was a curtain which blocked the view but there was constant communication between the men behind the curtain and those at the negotiating table".
Lt-Gen Paradorn also said that he didn’t know whether Sapa-ing Baso, a core leader of the BRN Coordinate, who was earlier reported to join the peace talk was present or not. But two other sources confirmed that he was not present. Instead, Mr Masukree, the son of a key Muslim religious leader in the deep South was there and joined the talk.
One of the participants on the government side however said that there was no curtain. He said that the BRN representatives who did not join the talks were at a different room on the upper floor. He however said that all the BRN representatives were the old guards.
One of the government delegates, Mr Asiz Benhawan, chairman of the advisory council for the administration and development of southern border provinces, maintained that only six BRN representatives were present at the historic meeting.
Another delegate who refused to be named said that the BRN representatives besides Mr Hassan used pseudonyms and it was difficult to identify them because many of them have aged at lot.
According to Lt-Gen Paradorn, two issues were raised for discussion at the meeting: the next stage for the peace talk process and de-escalation of violence in the restive region. On the first issue, it was agreed by both sides that there would be at most 15 delegates for each party and Malaysia would be the facilitator. On the second issue, both sides said they wanted to see peace in the region with the BRN demanding the government to ensure justice for all while the government had asked the BRN to instruct the separatists to scale down their violent incidents. The issue will be discussed again at the next meeting scheduled on April 29 in KL.
Mr Srisompob Chitpiromsri, an academic from Prince of Songkhla University’s Pattani campus and one of the government representatives, said that the BRN representatives had recalled the past sufferings and painful experiences at the hands of government officials which were the cause of their struggle against the government. A few traumatic incidents were cited namely the myserious missing of their spiritual leader Haji Sulong who was believed to be kidnapped and murdered over five decades ago, the Krue Se and Tak Bai incidents in 2004.
He said that the BRN side did not make clear its demand besides expressing their wish that the government would ensure justice in the region. They claimed that they were not responsible for all the violent incidents in the region which they blamed on the other militant groups, he added.
There was another issue which was barely mentioned – that is the actual site of the meeting. It was widely reported that the meeting took place at the police training school. But actually it took place at a safe house of the Malaysian special police which is not far away from the JW Marriot Hotel where the Thai delegation was staying.
Caption : (From left) General Nipat Thonglek, deputy defence permanent secretary Lt-Gen Paradorn Pattanathabut, secretary-general of the National Security Council and the chief delegate and Pol Col Thawee Sodsong, secretary-general of Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre