Peace talks success hinges on transparency, experts say

Peace talks success hinges on transparency, experts say

The government must ensure peace talks with southern insurgent groups are transparent or risk stalling the negotiation process, experts say.

Surachart Bumrungsuk, associate professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, said locals should be properly informed, if not consulted, about the signing of a peace talk agreement between the National Security Council (NSC) and Hassan Taib, deputy secretary-general of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).

The agreement was signed on Feb 28 in Malaysia.

"A positive step forward will not always deliver positive results, and the public should be well aware that peace and stability takes time to shape," Mr Surachart said.

Duncan McCargo, a professor on Southeast Asia Politics at the University of Leeds in the UK, said that despite the government appearing serious about addressing the southern insurgency, the likelihood of meaningful peace talks taking place remains doubtful.

"Certainly, we need an open and frank discussion about decentralising power in this country, not only for the South. The Buddhist majority needs to understand that only by accommodating difference and creating more political space will Thailand be at peace with itself," he said.

Regarding the government's dialogue with insurgent groups, Mr McCargo said the government had to first answer the basic questions of "talks with whom and about what".

He noted the government lacks an ultimate leader in the southern conflict, which is under the jurisdiction of several agencies such as the NSC, the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, the Royal Thai Army, and the Internal Security Operations Command.

"There is intense distrust between politicians and these bureaucratic entities," he said. "Any dialogue process owned by one partner is likely to be quietly disowned by the others."

Successive governments have denied the political nature of the militant cause and have been unwilling to talk seriously about autonomy or other forms of decentralisation in the South, he added.

Mr McCargo said the new peace dialogue looks ominously like previous similar attempts, as there is little evidence that the military is on board and no clear signal that a political solution might be on the table.

There was also no solid evidence to prove that Hassan Taib, the BRN representative, has the standing, connections or authority to negotiate with the government or deliver a peace settlement.

"The juwae [fighters] are very decentralised, have connections and allegiances to a range of groups and older-generation leaders, and cannot readily be corralled into a ceasefire or a shared set of proposals," he said.

"All talks that might help to reduce fighting are welcome, but the latest southern Thai peace initiative will need much greater commitment from both sides if serious progress is to be made," Mr McCargo added.

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