Never-ending demands will kill peace talks

Never-ending demands will kill peace talks

So, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok has jumped the gun _ he shouldn't have blundered so badly. Almost a decade of separatist violence certainly won't end overnight. Our peace talks chief Paradorn Pattanatabut acknowledges it and maybe Pol Gen Pracha should speak to him more often.

A day of relative calm that followed the start of the holy Ramadan period gave us the hope we were hungry for. And it should also give us much more reason for cautious optimism.

Having said that, we should not let ourselves be swept away to the point of being in denial. Pol Gen Pracha, who recently replaced the sharp-tongued Chalerm Yubamrung as deputy premier in charge of national security, was adamant the two bomb blasts three days into the Ramadan fasting month would not rattle the 40-day ceasefire agreement reached by the Thai government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).

He was also quick to identify the perpetrators as a splinter separatist group, not the BRN.

Are we to believe the violent campaigns that have turned the far South upside down since 2004 are the work of these small splinter groups that are separate from the BRN? Then what exactly is the relationship between these groups and the BRN?

Until our peace delegates can establish any ties between them, the talks between us and the BRN will dangle in limbo. Just as a love triangle is difficult to get out of, we shouldn't place ourselves in a triangle of distrust we can't break.

Pol Gen Pracha even verbalised his disparagement of the militant group that staged the two bomb attacks. But he said he did not wish to discuss them to avoid giving them credit.

It is as clear as the nose on one's face that we cannot afford to discount the militants on the ground because it is they who kill and maim people.

We are waiting for the BRN at the top to talk their lower rungs into laying down the weapons, at least over the next few weeks or so out of respect for the month of Ramadan. But the communication does not seem to be trickling down to them at all.

The BRN also continues to assert claims of persistent mistreatment and brutality against local people in the far South at the hands of Thai authorities, who have denied any such ill practice. One side is pointing fingers at the other for paying mere lip service to the Ramadan ceasefire agreement following what looked like a spark of hope for a violence-free holy period.

A healthy relationship requires giving and taking and making concessions where needed.

But so far, one side is watching intently to see when the other will make the first move. If the first move necessitates the gradual lessening of military presence in localities outside security hotspots, authorities should redeploy the troops in phases.

A redeployment may pale considerably against the BRN's over-the-top demand for a complete withdrawal of troops from the region, but at least it would represent a start.

There was a mention of troops thinning in some communities. However, Lt Gen Paradorn insisted the redeployment was not a response to the peace talk condition set by the BRN.

Perhaps he was tiptoeing around the political sensitivities of the issue. He might think it unwise to commit a faux pas and be seen as appeasing the BRN at the expense of national security, which might ruffle the military's feathers.

And the BRN has yet to prove its worth. There has not been even the minutest step taken to reduce the campaign of violence, much less deliver a ceasefire.

When one keeps throwing in list after list of demands, the other party ends up on the receiving end and the talk rings hollow.

The peace talks relationship has got off to a discordant start and hasn't improved in the weeks since. We still see BRN representative Hassan Taib popping up occasionally on YouTube and making yet more demands.

The government is forced to go on the defensive and looks at times quite agitated. We have two sides entering into a peace dialogue but both have spent more time directing allegations and rebutting them than in settling differences.

They are creating more obstacles than they are removing.

It is true that we need patience to see the talks through. However, we must also assess the reality of where the talks are heading and ensure we're not stuck in neutral gear.

What kills a relationship is a couple in denial.

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

Kamolwat Praprutitum

Bangkok Post assistant news editor

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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