The ceasefire that wasn't

With two-thirds of the Ramadan fasting month already passed, the policies and the so-called ceasefire in the deep South continue to grow more murky. In the past 19 days, the government and its partner in the peace talks have refused numerous opportunities to inform the public. After a two-day lull at the start of Ramadan, the daily events in the region are as bloody as ever _ even more horrific in one case. The government's peace negotiators have put on a stolid face of optimism, but it is not clear why.

One of the worst attacks of the year took place last week. Militants placed a roadside bomb next to the grounds of a hospital. When a car taking teachers to class passed by, they detonated the explosive. Two female teachers were killed and a male colleague was badly wounded. In terms of casualties, it was the worst such terrorist attack against teachers in recent memory.

Propagandists for the separatists were quick to respond to the atrocity. They tried to place blame for the deaths on the protective unit that failed to guard the teachers. The government responded with evidence, showing the bomb caused the deaths. But as usual, the government was far behind the expert truth-spinners deployed by the separatists. The government has still failed to point out the simplest truth of all _ if the militants had not set off the bomb, no one would have been hurt.

That is the crux of numerous attacks which have taken a dozen lives during the sham ceasefire period. Killings, drive-by murders and the militants' policy of bomb attacks all have continued. Arguments over whether the number of attacks has dropped are hardly useful. Neither are the arguments by National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut that some of the killings in the deep South are unrelated to the separatists' rebellion.

The ceasefire by any measure has failed, but the larger question is _ what ceasefire? It should be recalled that the question of a mutual Ramadan truce was broached and publicised on June 13. After their meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Lt Gen Paradorn and Hassan Taib of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) professed to be upbeat about it.

The BRN then submitted seven unacceptable conditions. Later, in a conversation with the Malaysian facilitator Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim, both sides agreed to a ceasefire, but kept all terms from the public.

The blood spilt during the past three weeks could indicate the BRN never was serious about a Ramadan peace _ formal, or informal. But it seems more likely the Malaysia-based separatist negotiators lack control over militants inside Thailand. That bodes poorly for the chances of any negotiated peace plan.

Separatist activity in the South last week ranged from the terrorist attacks on the teachers to Friday's numerous graffiti messages _ "Soldiers go home", written in Thai. It seems the Kuala Lumpur talks and the Ramadan ceasefire are only part of the problem, and perhaps a much smaller part than the government indicates.

It shows the government faces a multi-headed security threat in the South. This requires a multi-pronged response.

For now, the government seems to have put its hopes for peace entirely upon the BRN talks. On the ground, the continuing violence indicates it is not that simple.