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By Ainaa Aiman, Reporter from Free Malaysia Today
PETALING JAYA: The peace talks between the Thai government and insurgents in southern Thailand (or the deep south) has led to no tangible outcomes in solving the conflict there, say experts on a panel discussion today.
This is despite a decreasing trend of violence in the southern region since 2014 – a year after the first round of peace dialogues between Thailand and the key Malay-Muslim insurgent party Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (BRN) in Kuala Lumpur.
In a discussion titled “Southern Thailand: the prospect for peace for a forgotten conflict”, national security professor Mohd Kamarulnizam Abdullah from Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) said Malaysia’s success in mediating the talks would depend on the readiness of both parties.
The forum was organised by Bait al-Amanah, Nahel Endowment for Peace, and Peoples College.
Kamarulnizam said that, as it stands, the peace process was stalled, with each party having differing views and solutions.
On the Malaysian side, Covid-19 and border closures have affected the peace talks greatly, even though there have been online discussions last year.
“Malaysia’s own political transitions also contributed to slow progress of the peace process,” he said.
He said BRN was also seen to be dominating the talks, sidelining other actors in the conflict.
“Although BRN has offered some kind of ceasefire in April 2020, we still see some bombings after that. This shows other actors are not very happy with this kind of situation.
“It seems that the two parties (Thailand and BRN) are prolonging the process, bringing the conflict into uncertainty.”
He added that negotiations must take into account all perspectives, and involve other groups, social leaders and civil societies for a better representation of the voices in the deep south.
“The idea of pushing one dominant side’s perspectives and demands will not help the peace process.”
Another panellist, Srisompob Jitpiromsri, the director of NGO Deep South Watch, said the situation in the region has been “generally quite peaceful” with a steady decline of violence since 2014.
However, he said surveys on the ground by civil societies have shown that a majority of respondents in the region (70%) felt that the situation has remained unchanged, with some feeling it has become worse.
He said academics agreed that this is due to the reluctance of both the insurgents and the Thai government to achieve a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Meanwhile, Duncan McCargo, director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies has called the peace dialogues “unimpressive and borderline meaningless”. However, he agreed that the negotiations brought hope to the local communities in the southern Thailand provinces.
He added that despite the decline in incidents of violence and military confrontations, the political problem has not gone away.
An insurgency began in the deep south in 2004. The separatist groups are seeking secession from Buddhist-majority Thailand.
Malaysia has stated that independence is out of the question and that, at most, the separatists may get some form of autonomy.
The conflict in the region has claimed about 7,000 lives.
*This article was published in Free Malaysia Today