Government peace talks with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) have been driven by political motives and will not likely lead to true peace, a forum was told yesterday.
Adef Soko, of the Youth for Peace and Development, said BRN liaison office chief Hassan Taib may not fully support holding peace talks with the government in Malaysia on March 28.
He said there were reports of Mr Taib, now in Malaysia, having been told that if he does not agree to join the talks, he might be sent back to face insurgency charges in Thailand.
Mr Taib holds dual Thai-Malaysian citizenship.
"It's quite telling that the first basic principle of the talks, which is that everyone must come to the table of their own free will, was not there. It means the talks have collapsed even before they have begun," he said.
"Further violent flare-ups [in the far South] will ensue," Mr Adef said.
He was speaking at a forum on the peace process jointly organised by the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand and the Foundation of Islamic Centre of Thailand in Bangkok yesterday.
Mr Adef said he had been invited by the government to be one of the 15 representatives in the Thai delegation at the March 28 talks.
But he said he declined the offer and had asked to be an observer instead.
Mr Adef said the government was motivated politically into setting up the talks.
The government may be looking to bring in a new deputy premier in charge of national security while the Malaysian government may benefit from the publicity which could increase its popularity ahead of a general election there.
Don Pathan, director of foreign relations at the Patani Forum, said he does not believe Mr Taib is a BRN representative whom insurgents on the ground respect.
The "real deal" have stayed away from the talks because the government has sidelined them, he said.
Chalida Tajaroensuk, director of the People's Empowerment Foundation, doubted the 15-strong delegation was fully familiar with the southern problem.
"Do they really know what has been going on or do they just want to be there? The public must know if the peace process is for real," she said.
She emphasised the importance of civil participation in peace-building.
Charan Maluleem, an expert on international affairs at Thammasat University, called for a change in perspective to approach the southern problem.
He said there was only a slim chance of success if authorities were not ready to compromise. Mr Charan was also in favour of the much-discussed Pattani Metropolis special administration.
"We keep stressing the talks must proceed under the constitution, but let me ask this: are people in the troubled region treated equally?" he said.
Pakorn Preeyakorn, a political scientist at the National Institute of Development Administration, urged the government to develop a "Thai model" for the peace process, saying there was no "one size fits all" example in this case.
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- Writer: Mongkol Bangprapa