A window now open for peace in the South, but local input essential

While peace talks between the authorities led by the National Security Council (NSC) and insurgent groups have begun, dialogue in the far South has been pushed by the King Prajadhipok's Institute (KPI) for more than six years. Gen Ekachai Srivilas, the director of KPI's Peace and Governance Bureau, a key promoter of the dialogue, discusses how that dialogue progressed to the point of the talks beginning.

Can you give people an idea about the KPI's move to push for dialogue to deal with the violence in the South?

It began with a KPI course involving about 20 people based in or working in the South in which they exchanged their views with others outside the region. We later worked on decentralisation issues with the Political Development Council and Chulalongkorn and Prince of Songkla universities.

Among the measures locals in the deep South have proposed are a Pattani metropolitan administration, a decentralised administration along the lines of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, elected governors for each province, and the election of a person in charge of the three restive provinces _ Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.

We have also created space for talks with 51 local groups comprising bureaucrats, Muslim clerics, Buddhists and people in various occupations from all districts in the provinces. The form of administration doesn't matter to them; they just want safety and security.

What the local people would like to see is justice and fairness.

What is the main lesson you've learned through all of this?

In the haste to 'crack' the decentralisation formula, it might all just fall apart, so we do not need to hurry.

Why did the Democrat government's approach of using politics before military action not yield acceptable results?

Military personnel change all the time. They have not been able to come up with solutions to deal with the insurgency. Coming from various regions, the army personnel and their operations down there have become compartmentalised and they do not have the same grasp of the strategies that are set down by the central government.

There was some competition for the development budget between the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) and the army as well.

The Yingluck Shinawatra government has therefore brought in the SBPAC and the Internal Security Operations Command to discuss southern budgets with 66 other government agencies.

In the past few months, the government has been able to shake up the Southern Border Provinces Coordination Centre headed by a deputy prime minister. Nine strategies for southern Thailand have been adopted and one of the key tasks is to provide a conducive environment for talks with those who think differently from the Thai state.

Former prime minister Surayud Chulanont's apology in 2007 for atrocities committed by the Thai military fighting the southern insurgency did not tame the violence.

An apology would work when the situation on the ground has actually calmed down. But thinking positively, all previous efforts coupled with those of the current government have brought us to today [the peace talks]. It is a process that has built up. Actually, the NSC had launched talks on several occasions with other groups before.

Now even Gen Surayud says it is a good sign that the NSC has entered talks with the insurgent groups.

Why were talks not realised before now?

There was a lack of unity in the government and also in the insurgency movement as well. It has taken a year or two for authorities to fine-tune matters and for politicians to find clear and common ground.

Having input from locals before they enter the talks is a must. The peace process cannot be successful and the solution sustainable only through talks with exiles but must include people in the South as well as in the rest of the country.

About the author

Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Senior Reporter