General Akkanit: Peace talks just a drama with its ending already set
The ongoing peace talks between the government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional separatist group is just a drama with its ending already set – that is a special administrative zone for the deep South which will become a buffer zone between Thailand and Malaysia.
The above statement was the view recently expressed by General Akkanit Muensawat, former chief of Thai-Malay coordinating centre and a specialist on Thai-Malay border affairs who used to be a key driver in the attempt to put an end to insurgency waged against Malaysia by the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). In addition, the retired general who was a classmate of Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha was involved in the secret peace talks with the BRN and other Muslim separatist groups dating back to the 90s.
General Akkanit sat down for an exclusive interview with Isranews reporters recently. The followings are excerpts of the interview.
To begin with, the general said that there are only three players in the ongoing peace talks process namely Thailand, Malaysia and the BRN. The peace talks brokered by Malaysia in his capacity as the facilitator amount to an official recognition that Kuala Lumpur has provided shelter to the separatist group.
He recalled remarks previously made by former Malaysian prime ministers Mahathir Mohamad and Abdulloh Ahmad Badawi during their lectures in Thailand that the only solution to the southern insurgency was to grant self-rule or autonomy to the region. Similar opinion was also voiced by Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and Malaysian defence minister and foreign minister in their talks the Thai counterparts.
"Why Malasia think that autonomy for the Deep South will resolve the insurgency problem? I don’t know whether there is any secret deal between the governments of the two countries. But I remember Lt-Gen Paradorn Pattanatabut, secretary-general of the National Security Council and head of the Thai negotiating team in talks with the BRN talked about the idea of a special administrative zone as if there was already a secret deal to make the three southernmost provinces a SAZ (special administrative zone) which corresponds with Malaysia’s idea of autonomy for the restive region. And this might be the reason of Malaysia’s cooperation to help resolve our problem," said General Akkanit.
When encountered with widespread criticisms toward the SAZ, he noted that General Paradorn softened his stand on the issue saying that it was still a long way before the idea would be realized. "But on the ground, it is a different matter. People in the region have been told about SAZ by officials concerned and bill for the setting up of Patani city state of Patani Maha Nakhon were proposed," said the general.
Regarding the BRN’s five demands to the government, he explained that the demands reflected the separatist group’s historic concept. "They (the separatists) still attach to the history. But if people in every area of conflict stick to history, then there will be war all over the world. There are some arguments that once Asean become an economic zone, the border problem will be meaningless citing the example of EU. But I think that is a misunderstanding. There is no country which will allow their territorial sovereignty to be breached. The EU is all about economic and cultural integration, not about military affairs and sovereignty."
He predicted that the peace talks will drag on until 2015 when Asean economic community becomes a reality. Then, he said the far South will turn a special administrative zone.
As for the SAZ concept, General Akkanit said he thought Kuala Lumpur appears to be at the driving wheel and the real beneficiary. "They (Malaysia) are in control of the game even without the BRN’s demands. Anyone who wants to see Hassan Taib, BRN’s chiefnegotiation, must get the approval of Kuala Lumpur. Wasn’t Malaysia totally unaware when Hassan posted the demands through YouTube?".
He said that the SAZ was defence strategy of Malaysia. Just visualize the map of Malaysia. Its western border has a SAZ which is Ajeh of Indonesia. The eastern border is Mindanao of the Philippines which will become SAZ in the next two years and its southern border with Singapore is problem-free. Malaysia, he pointed out, brokered the peace talks in Mindanao.
"The three southernmost provinces are located on the northern border of Malaysia. If the area is made a SAZ, it will become a buffer zone for Malaysia and Malaysia will be surrounded by Muslim-administered areas. And this is their defence strategy."
But will violence stop in the deep South if the region is made a special administrative zone? General Akkanit does not think so noting that SAZ is not the goal of the separatists.
The retired general said he believes the BRN’s demand for the fifth district of Songkhla province to be incorporated into the Deep South does not mean Hat Yai district but Sadao district because the district sits on the border with Malaysia.
He doubted Malaysia’s sincerity towards Thailand, noting that if Malaysia is really sincere it should not have provided shelter to the separatists and should not have called for autonomy for the deep South as a solution to the conflict while at the same time announcing its disagreement with separatism.
He pointed out that there are many things that Kuala Lumpur could help but it didn’t do so such as the extradition of separatists wanted in Thailand for criminal activities.
"The extradition treaty between Siam and the British empire is still enforcible. It can be dusted off and updated if it is deemed obsolete. Or the 2000 border agreement between Thailand and Malaysia can be amended. Malaysia can play a lot of roles but it didn’t."
General Akkanit said the Thai military is strongly against the SAZ concept as it goes against Article 77 of the Constitution and also the concept will lead to the creation of a separate statehood.
He said he agreed with the idea of decentralization and a limited self-rule on local level.
The general disclosed that, to his knowledge, there have been talks about nine models of special administrative zone among academics and local politicians with the grassroot people in general barely knowing anything about them.
As for the ongoing peace talks process, General Akkanit suggested that the process be temporarily suspected so that that all sides would go back to rethink and to review the process although, in principle, he said he supported negotiations as a means to resolve the conflict.