First step in a long and difficult journey
Despite all the criticism of the historic signing of the agreement to launch peace talks with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist organisation on Feb 28 in Kuala Lumpur, the Pheu Thai-led government appears to have won popular support and, as such, scored political points for the initiative.
- Published: 18/03/2013 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
An opinion poll conducted on March 14-15 by the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) found that 64.7% of respondents agreed with the initiative - formally called the General Consensus on a Peace Dialogue Process - and believe it will finally end unrest in the insurgency-plagued deep South.
The same poll also showed that 23.9% of respondents disagreed with the initiative, saying it will be fruitless and that it attaches too much importance to the BRN.
Meanwhile, the so-called Hat Yai Poll, conducted by Hat Yai University in four southern provinces _ Songkhla, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat _ showed that 39.2% of about 1,000 respondents preferred that the government hold talks with the militants or separatist gangs.
Besides the positive opinion polls, Muslim religious committees, non-governmental organisations such as the Civil Society Council of Southern Thailand, the Women's Network Civil Society and several southern academics have rallied in support of the government's move to reach out to the militants.
Ahmad Somboon Bualuang, of King Prajadhipok's Institute, described the formal signing of the dialogue initiative as a new dimension in the attempt to resolve the southern conflict.
He said it didn't matter whether Hassan Taib, who signed the document on behalf of the BRN, has the real power or control over the new breed of militants blamed for most of the violence in the region. What matters, he said, is that the peace initiative opens a channel for peace through negotiations.
Sobaidah Doloh, head of the Women's Network Civil Society and one of the recipients of this year's Peace Promotion Award, urged all parties in the conflict to reduce, if not end, the use of force to build an atmosphere conducive to peace talks.
She is, however, realistic enough to understand the process is not a magic solution which can end the conflict overnight.
Apparently, the government's peace initiative has caught the opposition Democrats with their pants down.
Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut criticised the government for rushing ahead with the deal merely to seek political leverage. He also suggested Mr Hassan was just a powerless figurehead.
But this only served to cast a sour note over the opposition given the widespread positive response.
The question is, why didn't the Democrats take the same initiative when they had the chance a few years back? They were in government and, above all, had won most of the parliamentary seats representing the far South.
The government is fully aware that signing the peace talks deal with the BRN does not guarantee that violent incidents perpetrated by all militant groups will immediately stop or drop.
What it expects from this historic exercise is to convey a message to the rebels that it really wants to settle the conflict in a peaceful manner and that the BRN old guard should be able to convince the hardcore militants to join the process in the future - which will not be an easy task.
All previous talks with the rebel groups were held in secrecy without open approval from the government.
The peace process, with the first meeting between a Thai delegation and the BRN scheduled for March 28 in Kuala Lumpur, is just the first step of a long and difficult journey into the unknown. Nobody can tell for sure how long the process will take before it will start to bear fruit, let alone durable peace.
The fatal bomb blast on Friday in Narathiwat which killed the police deputy superintendent of Rueso district and two of his men was the worst incident since the signing of the peace dialogue initiative. Security officers said it was meant to derail and discredit the peace process.
There will be more violent incidents by the juwae warriors, or the new breed of militants who disagree with the plan to launch peace talks, because they don't see any benefit from the process.
But for the process to proceed, it is essential that both sides of the conflict not be distracted by such violent incidents and must be sincere about working out a peaceful solution to the conflict. They must not lose faith in the process even if there is only a mere flicker of hope for it to take hold at the moment.
But more importantly, the public in general must firmly stand behind the peace process and give hope a chance.
Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
- Position: Former Editor