South 'safety zones' on table
Mara Patani claims deal struck with Thais
The umbrella insurgent group Mara Patani has appealed to civil society in the deep South to submit proposals on safety zones as they concluded talks with the Thai government in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.
In an interview with TV 3, Mara Patani spokesman Abu Hafez Al-Hakim said the "unofficial meeting between the Thai government and Mara Patani has accepted the latest version of the terms of reference".
Mr Abu Hafez did not elaborate, saying the TOR remained a secret.
He emphasised the TOR, which would lay the framework for an official dialogue between the clandestine Malay Muslim separatist movement and the Thai Buddhist state, was agreed upon by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) as well.
"They're part of the Mara Patani," Mr Abu Hafez told reporters from TV3, Thai PBS and Bernama.
Mara Patani has agreed the safety zone issue should be discussed but how and when would be further prepared by the working group assigned from both sides.
"Right now, a women's group [Women's Agenda for Peace] has sent us one concept. I'd like to encourage other civil society groups to submit their proposals as well," Mr Abu Hafez said.
Mara Patani accepted the proposals from the Women's Agenda for Peace for further talks and evaluation, according to Deep South Watch, a Pattani-based organisation which monitors the insurgency.
Others are the approval of the new TOR, a future plan to discuss the safety zone issue and the peace dialogue to continue in an unofficial manner, the Deep South Watch said, citing Mara Patani.
Bangkok rejected the earlier version of the TOR as it viewed proposals, including judicial procedures and a safety zone as too theoretical, Gen Aksara Kerdphol, who led the Thai negotiating team, said earlier.
Mara Patani, its spokesperson noted, has its own concept about safety zones, while the Thai government has theirs. The people on the ground certainly should have a say and could present their views to Mara Patani too, he noted.
Asked if the incidents in Narathiwat prior to the meetings would derail the discussions between the Thai delegation and Mara Patani, Mr Hafez said that violence on the ground may or may not affect the talks. Asked if Mara Patani was disturbed about the Thai PM's rebuttals to accepting Mara Patani, the group's representative said Mara Patani disregarded whatever was reported in the media and focused on things actually discussed.
"We still continue to engage in dialogue and we're confident in it," Mr Abu Hafez said.
Gen Aksara, who returned from yesterday's talks with the Mara Patani in Malaysia, expected the safety zone issue to be tabled in the next talks.
He also clarified there was in fact "no signing of any TOR agreement" in the latest talks as negotiators only agreed to jointly work on "administrative issues".
The issues reportedly ranged from the number of representatives for each side, languages used during the talks, to facilities and measures to ensure security during the peace dialogue process.
Officials yesterday tightened security in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, the three Muslim-dominated provinces in the restive South, as Thai delegates held peace talks with the Mala Patani in Malaysia, according to deputy police spokesman Pol Col Kritsana Phatthanacharoen.
Meanwhile, police are hunting suspects believed to have planted a powerful bomb on a hijacked school milk truck.
The hunt was launched after the officers narrowly escaped a bomb attack that targeted a senior police officer's house in Narathiwat's Waeng district.