Delegations representing the Thai government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebels met in Kuala Lumpur last week for their first face-to-face meeting peace talks in about two years.
As expected, there has been no breakthrough in Malaysia-brokered negotiations to settle the decades-old separatist insurgency in Thailand.‘s Deep South, although both parties have agreed to establish a joint working group for future discussions.
Looking carefully at the statements and comments from each side, it‘It is clear that Thailand and the BRN are far apart on key issues.
According to BRN chief negotiator Anas Abdulrahman (also known as Hipni Mareh), the two sides agreed to discuss four areas identified as priorities by the rebels: governance, education, recognition of Malay Pattani identity; and their traditional economic system.
In May 2021, the BRN filed a ceasefire proposal based on “establishment of an independent body “Patani Darussalam” region that would have the power to develop its own education system; it would be both Islamic and in the Malay language; and where the “The Malay language and identity needed to be officially recognized and preserved.
The BRN‘The call for autonomy, however, is an absolute failure for the Thai government.
Thailand is an overly centralized state, especially since a military-backed constitution came into effect in 2017.
This government will never accept autonomy. And, frankly, a democratically elected would not support full autonomy for fear of incurring more military intervention in politics. Giving autonomy to the Malay Pattani people would set a precedent considered totally unacceptable by the Thai government.
The Thai government has said it is considering adapting Melayu as a formal second language.
Thai officials know they should, but refuse to follow through.
Thai people will never give up on the education system because it‘is one of the main means of indoctrinating the public – especially under this army-backed government. This‘It is unclear whether the central government would allow Islamic schools in the far south to be exempted from national education requirements, including the Thai language.
BRN rebels pushed for formal recognition of Pattani Malay culture and values. For them, the Thai state represents an existential threat; their struggle is about cultural preservation.
The government has long been frustrated with the Malay people of Pattani because they are the only minority group in Thailand that has resisted assimilation. Indeed, the Malays of Pattani believe that Thai culture has a corrupting influence and threatens their traditional and conservative Shafii values.
Another from the BRN‘s the priority issues were the protection of the region‘s traditional agrarian economy. The BRN has largely rejected the development projects, including the construction of industrial areas.
The government believes that underdevelopment is a cause of unrest, while the BRN believes that Thailand’s economic development programs threaten the traditional way of life of the Pattani Malays and that development programs would only benefit the Thai people.
The Thai government has been more muted in the latest round of talks.
In a statement published in the Bangkok Post, the government said “The proposed framework includes violence reduction, political participation and a discussion mechanism in the [Deep South] Region.”
The Thai government has always made an end to the violence a condition of the talks, both to show its goodwill and commitment to peace, but also to demonstrate the BRN‘s command and control over their militants.
In fact, last week‘s talks in the Malaysian capital, nobody from the BRN‘s military wing was represented on their seven-man panel.
The Thai statement makes no specific mention of language, Pattani identity or the preservation of the traditional economy.
And with violence at historic lows, the Thai government isn’t under much pressure to make concessions.
The government is likely to continue its current political, economic and security policies in the south. It might be possible to improve dispute resolution mechanisms; it’s definitely in thailand‘interest.
A culture of impunity
Despite the differences, the resumption of the talks must be seen in a positive light. But the irritants remain.
One of the main public grievances of Pattani and the BRN is the security forces’ culture of impunity.
Under the 2005 emergency decree which is still in effect throughout much of the Deep South, government security personnel enjoy near-total immunity for their actions. They are rarely prosecuted for wrongdoing, which invariably leads to alleged excessive use of force and human rights abuses.
Immunity has only been lifted a few times since the conflict resumed 18 years ago. Members of the security forces have been convicted, but not a single one has been upheld on appeal.
What is more common is that when an incident occurs, an investigation is carried out. But once the incident slips out of the public mind, the charges are dropped.
Last week, three police officers were charged with attempted murder when they opened fire on a truck carrying five Muslim teenagers as it drove through a checkpoint without stopping, injuring two. The police were not in uniform and the young men believed that the police were militants.
The government‘The quick decision to file a complaint was welcomed. Yet it is unlikely that the officers will ever be prosecuted. Upon review of the case, and after sufficient time, the charges against the three will likely be dropped.
But in a more infuriating incident, the Special Investigations Department last week ended its investigation without filing a complaint in a July 2019 incident, when a suspected militant in military custody, Abdullah Esomuso, was transported from emergency in unconscious hospital.
the A 34-year-old man was pictured in apparent good health during his interrogation. CCTV in his cell was apparently not working.
That night he was rushed to hospital with conditions consistent with a lack of oxygen. He fell into a coma and died the following month. A government autopsy found no signs of torture.
Ending the culture of impunity in Thailand would do much to build goodwill among the public.
But this‘This is another issue where the two sides remain distant in the southern peace talks.
Zachary Abuza is a professor at the National War College in Washington and an adjunct at Georgetown University. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of the United States Department of Defense, the National War College, Georgetown University or BenarNews.