Army, NSC miles apart on peace talks

There is a clear lack of unity between the army and the National Security Council (NSC) on two key issues relating to the first formal peace talk between the government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist organisation scheduled in Kuala Lumpur on March 28.

The issues are the emergency decree and a special administrative zone for the insurgency-hit deep South.

The NSC appears to favour gradually replacing the draconian emergency decree with the less harsh Internal Security Act (ISA) in districts where the security situation has improved satisfactorily, and ease the restrictions placed on the local people.

This is intended to win the support of the local populace and civil groups who have been complaining about the restrictions, even though the lifting of the decree would benefit the militants.

The decree remains in place across the deep South with the exception of Mae Larn district of Pattani and four districts of Songkhla, namely Saba Yoi, Na Thawee, Chana and Pheta.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, left, is greeted by villagers during a visit to Pattani last month. (Photo by Parez Lohasant)

But Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the national army chief, made it clear on Thursday that the emergency decree should be lifted only when the militant gangs show some sincerity about entering the peace process by ending their violence. He wants the BRN to talk to all the insurgent gangs and persuade them to end the violence. After 12 months of peace, the military would support lifting the emergency decree.

His statement would appear to have dashed any hope for the early lifting of the decree, even in those districts where the situation has improved.

The army chief’s tough stand on the issue has the full support of Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who oversees all security affairs in the far South (even though he has never been there).

Both the army chief and Mr Chalerm are openly opposed to the idea of a special administrative zone - Pattani Maha Nakhon or Nakhon Pattani, sometimes referred to as Pattani City - insisting it would contravene the constitution, which states that Thailand is an indivisible sovereign state.

The flat rejection of a special administrative zone by these two influential men represents a setback for NSC chief Lt-Gen Paradorn Pattanathabut, who said recently that the idea might be raised in the forthcoming peace talk with the BRN.

Lt Gen Paradorn appears to have jumped the gun by floating the idea without prior consultation or discussion with the army and other security agencies on the issue. Also, the idea should have been raised by the BRN and not by the government side, especially not by the government’s chief negotiator in the coming discussions in Kuala Lumpur.

The conflict of opinion on two such vital issues as the emergency decree and the special administrative zone between the army and the NSC, which has the strong support support of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre, is a disturbing sign that needs to be rectified by the parties concerned before the start of the peace dialogue.

They need to find a common ground on the two issues, and to speak in a single voice when they sit down with the rebels. This means that an official spokesman for the government's peace talk team may have to be appointed and do all the talking to the media, instead of several men flapping their mouths in different directions on the same subjects.

Last but not least, as a reminder to all the "hawks", the extremists on both sides of the bloody conflict, peace dialogue is about give and take, and compromise. There is no winner-takes-all. But all will lose if the talks fail.

Related search: Opinion, Veera Prateepchaikul, southern violence, peace talks, BRN, NSC, army

About the author

Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor