The first ever discussion between the National Security Council (NSC) and the separatist group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) is set for March 28. The so-called "peace dialogue" has spurred new hopes, but doubts linger about whether it will really ease the southern violence. Areepen Uttarasin, whose Wadah group was recently appointed as advisers to the government on southern affairs, is optimistic about the dialogue. He spoke to Bangkok Post reporter PRADIT RUANGDIT.
Areepen: Malaysia role must be clarified
What is the local reaction following the peace talks agreement signed by NSC secretary-general Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanatabut and BRN representative Hassan Taib?
Islamic leaders and residents in the three southernmost provinces are delighted. They welcome the agreement as they have long made a call for such an approach.
The road to peace will be long. It has taken time for the unrest to take hold. After all, the unrest is not like a simple crime or insurgency. The unrest has a historical dimension rooted in the belief of an independent Pattani state.
Does Hassan Taib have a key role in the separatist movement?
Mr Taib was born in Tanyongmat, Narathiwat. In the past, he had a key role in planning and operations for the movement. He relocated to Malaysia and worked as a teacher for about 20 years. He may be out of operations but is still well known and respected by younger rebels on the ground.
In fact, there is no point asking if Mr Taib is the real leader. He is a representative for his group. His role is to talk to his real leader who can make decisions.
Real leaders usually don't sign any agreements.
Why has violence continued after the agreement was signed?
The BRN has fought for an independent Pattani. It is an organised movement. It must have both political and armed elements. While the political side is engaged and willing to talk, the armed element continues to fight. Once there is a conclusion, the political side can tell the armed element to stop their actions.
The dialogue has just begun. If the movement stops the violence now, it means they don't understand anything about politics.
What should be included in the peace talks?
The very first thing they should talk about is what should be the administrative structure for the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. Each party must agree on that structure.
The separatist movement won't get what they want, which is an independent country. They must know that. It also depends on whether the government can accept the idea of a special administrative zone or not. But that seems to hold the key to resolving the conflict.
What do villagers in the region want?
There are four things. First, they want safety. Next, they want fair treatment. They feel that laws such as the emergency decree provide a lot of power to authorities to corrode their lives. They want fair prosecution. Third, they want to live as Muslims, learning the Malay language which is spoken by 300 million people in Asean. Fourth, they want good education and jobs.
What factors will make the upcoming talks successful?
The government must be committed to its plans to develop the three southernmost provinces. The government must be courteous to their partners during the discussion, not like in the past when some groups or individuals would refer to the rebels as thieves. It also has to keep in mind that the aim of the separatist movement is independence and members may have violated the law to achieve that goal. The government must understand this aspect.
Also, the government should view Malaysia as a helper rather than as a supporter of the separatist movement.
What can cause the talks to fail?
Hesitation. If the government starts down this road, but then sees that it is a long one, it could stop walking.
The other factor is the role of Malaysia. The government must have a clear grasp on this aspect. This is because once the talk progresses to a certain level, Malaysia may have to assume more of a mediating role. Without a mediator, there will be no conclusion. If, by that time, Malaysia is seen as intervening in our domestic affairs, then the talks could be derailed.