Patani: Why not int’l mediators?-Nation

February 28, 2012


Thailand should allow mediators in the deep South

The Nation: February 23, 2012


If the southern insurgency is ever to end, the Thai government must accept the help of outsiders who also want to see peace in the region

News that Thailand and Malaysia are willing to work together to bring permanent peace to Thailand’s southernmost provinces, which are plagued by an ongoing insurgency that has no end in sight, is welcome indeed.

How the two countries are going to achieve this goal is anybody’s guess, but let’s hope the two leaders, Yingluck Shinawatra and her Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, weren’t just going through the motions when they said what they believe the public wants to hear.

According to sources in the government, there are some encouraging signs and an understanding that the two countries are seriously looking for ways to cooperate on this matter.

In the past, especially during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, relations between the two countries hit some low points. At one time the southern conflict had threatened to bring Asean to its knees as Thaksin threatened to walk out of the annual Asean summit in Vientiane if any one of his counterparts talked about the massacre in Tak Bai – an incident in which 85 people died at the hands of Thai security officials. Seven were shot dead at the protest site and 78 died of suffocation after military authorities stacked them one on top of another in the back of military trucks.

To date, no one has been punished, and the culture of impunity among security officials continues, driving a bigger wedge between the Malay-Muslims in the southernmost provinces and the Thai state. Part of the reason why the authorities get away with murder, literally in many cases, is because the vast majority of the Thai public is indifferent to the plight and historical grievances of the Malays of Patani.

Historical ties between Siam and the Malays of Patani have always been shaped by warfare and mistrust. But the two sides succeeded in establishing a comfort level, at least in the first six decades after the Malay-speaking South came under Bangkok’s direct rule. Things fell apart when Thailand imposed racist and ethno-centric policies at the expense of the Patani Malays’ cultural and religious identity. Thailand prided itself on being able to integrate migrants into a state-constructed identity we called “Thai”. But Thailand conveniently overlooked the fact that, unlike the migrants, the Malays of Patani have always been where they are, centuries before the first generation of prominent “Thai” families got their citizenship.

Like other countries, Thailand’s nation-state has drawn up colonial boundaries and expects all people in every community inside them to go along with the state-constructed identity.

There is not a single country in Southeast Asia that hasn’t experienced problems with nation-state building. Some have experienced armed insurgency. Burma has engaged in peace talks with its numerous rebel groups, while the Philippines government is negotiating with the Moros of Mindanao. Indonesia is mostly at peace now, but like all governments in the region, Jakarta understands that a comfort level between the state and minority groups is something that has to be managed and/or negotiated. \

For southern Thailand, the strategy has always been two pronged – military action and development that aims to win the hearts and minds of the local population. Simply put, Thailand thinks it can buy off the Malays of Patani. Needless to say, the policy has failed miserably, and this may explain why the Yingluck government is finally reaching out to neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia to help with establishing some sort of peace process. In real terms, this means facilitating peace talks with the separatists.

Kuala Lumpur has some experience in conflict mediation, namely in Mindanao and Aceh. But many Thai security officials, especially the military top brass, do not see Kuala Lumpur as an honest broker because of its proximity.

But the real challenge is how to get buy-in from the local Malay Muslims in the deep South. For any peace process to have a chance of success, the Malays of Patani must have ownership. Outsiders have dictated to them for too long. It’s time that they had a greater say in the process so that their place in the Thai state is understood and appreciated. The question is: Will Thailand permit the Patani Malays a place at the table?


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