The southern unrest 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 discussion panel held in December last year by the Patani Forum, a non-governmental think-tank dedicated to the problems in the deep South, was informal peace talks between the Thai state and the various insurgent groups in the region.
Informal peace talks to resolve the southern unrest are nothing new. In fact, the process has been going on _ on and off _ for the past eight years since 2005 when Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister. It has been 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 talks, 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 talks 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. Unfortunately the plan was never implemented and the government was ousted in the 2006 coup.
During the government of prime minister Surayud Chulanont, the Internal Security Operations Command was given the green light by the government to go ahead with peace talks with the insurgent groups with the participation of both local and foreign non-governmental organisations, academics and foreign governments. But the talks 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 about talking with the insurgents.
The process was revived by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government. Peace talks resumed with Pulo representatives resulting in the unilateral ceasefire declaration by Pulo in three districts of Narathiwat during June to July of 2010. Concurrently, public discussions were held with the participation of community and religious leaders to gauge their views on the southern unrest and related problems.
During the government of Prime Minster Yingluck, Pol Col Thawee Sodsong, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC), has been tasked with carrying on the peace talks. Former prime minister Thaksin was reported to have met 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 of protest against the Kuala Lumpur meeting, Juwae warriors linked to the BRN Coordinate detonated car bombs in Hat Yai and Yala's Muang district on March 31 last year.
A special report at the end of the discussion held by the Patani Forum blamed the repeated failures of peace talks on successive Thai governments for their lack of a clear-cut policy regarding talks, a lack of unity among key agencies charged with overseeing the southern unrest 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 Juwae warriors. The report however proposed that the people's sector should serve as a go-between to coordinate future peace talks which might enjoy a better chance of success.
Another major issue is the policy direction of the government as throughout the past 17 months it has remained preoccupied with structural changes of the organisation responsible for the deep South.
Besides the SBPAC, Prime Minister Yingluck in her capacity as head of security affairs ordered the set-up of a new super organisation called the Centre for Integrated Solution of Problems and Development for Southern Provinces, which also oversees the SBPAC.
But after a major workshop attended by all ministries and agencies with a role in the deep South, the government created a new organisation, called the Operational Centre to Resolve Problems in the Southern Border Provinces to coordinate work between the SBPAC, Isoc and 17 ministries. The organisation was later renamed to avoid a legal hitch. Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung was appointed as its director.
But the real problem is that this new organisation 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, the SBPAC should be the key organisation in charge of non-military operations and activities whereas Isoc is the key organisation responsible for security affairs.
Seen in this perspective, all the government's efforts in restructuring organisations overseeing the problems in the deep South seem to be a complete waste because the new organisations duplicate the existing ones and none of them have legal support.
This article is from Isranews Agency's Deep South Desk, ISRA Institute, Thai Press Development Foundation.
About the author
Writer: Isranews Agency