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Southern peace talks advance on 15-year anniversary

BANGKOK: Fifteen years ago today, sounds of gunfire rang out at the 4th Development Battalion in Narathiwat’s Cho Airong district when insurgents overran the military outpost marking the re-emergence of the separatist movement in the far South.

By Bangkok Post

Friday 4 January 2019, 09:42AM

During the 15 years of separatist attacks, one of the army’s chief tasks has been protecting schools, teacher and students from terrorist attacks. Imgae: Bangkok Post

During the 15 years of separatist attacks, one of the army’s chief tasks has been protecting schools, teacher and students from terrorist attacks. Imgae: Bangkok Post

However, today, the events can serve as a catalyst for a new era for southern peace talks when the new chief of the Thai negotiation team, Gen Udomchai Thammasaroraj, begins the official dialogue in relation to the peace process.

The former 4th army commander will sit down and talk with former Malaysian police chief Abdul Rahim Noor today (Jan 4), who serves as the coordinator of the talks, to sound out plans for dialogue. The event will be held at the Pullman Hotel in Bangkok.

Gen Udomchai was appointed to the post in October last year and has replaced Gen Aksara Kerdphol who led the peace negotiation team for more than four years.

His team will undoubtedly face the tough task of negotiating with the Mara Patani, an umbrella organisation of the insurgent groups in the deep South.

Mara Patani consists of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), the Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Patani (GMIP) and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).

According to Gen Udomchai, the policy outlined by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is clear in that the southern unrest is a domestic issue and Malaysia would merely serve as the facilitator for talks.

“There will be no signing (of any agreements) during the discussion,” said Gen Udomchai, referring to today’s event.

Speaking to the Bangkok Post yesterday, he said he met Mr Noor in late October when he accompanied Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on a visit to Thailand.

Referring to today’s meeting, Gen Udomchai said he would ask to hold talks with the BRN separately first to gauge the group’s attitude. After that, the Thai negotiation team will hold talks with Mara Patani.

He said he was still uncertain who the Malaysian facilitator would contact to talk with the Thai team, adding he was informed that Dulloh Waemanor may no longer be the BRN’s head.

“We must consult with Malaysia first on what to do. We may have to ask for their suggestion about the dialogue plan,” said Gen Udomchai.

Referring to Dr Mahathir's suggestion of the possibility of granting more autonomy to the far South, the Thai chief negotiator stressed that the Malaysian premier could mean some forms of “power decentralisation” or “special administrative zone”.

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“It is certain that the separation is out of the equation,” said Gen Udomchai.

“I believe the violence instigators are well aware that the separation is impossible,” said Gen Udomchai. “Ways can be found in the talks, such as how power decentralisation could happen.”

According to him, the situation in the far South has improved as the insurgency has weakened.

“Their forces have been dealt with in terms of military operations and legal actions and their aggression has been eased,” said Gen Udomchai.

“When they are unable to achieve independence, they have to seek other options.”

“I cannot say how much time the dialogue would require. But we will put our full effort into it,” said Gen Udomchai.

Next Tuesday (Jan 8), Gen Udomchai’s peace talks team will hold a meeting with 4th army commander Pornsak Poonsawat, responsible for coordinating with people on the ground regarding the peace talks.

The following day, a press conference will be held to announce the framework on how to deal with the violence at Prince of Songkla University's Pattani campus, where representatives from public organisations and local leaders will also attend.

Meanwhile, on Jan 11, the team will hold press briefings with both foreign and Thai media.

On Jan 24, the team will hold talks with representatives from five embassies in Thailand to exchange ideas on peace negotiation.


Read original story here.



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